June 19th 2006 is one of those dates I’ll never forget. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of cancer when at the tender age of 31 I was diagnosed with a grade 1, stage 1 primary breast cancer.
In a nutshell, I had surgery, was told to go away and have the family we so desired and in the nicest possible way, never to darken the doorstep of Oncology again! I took on the mission and welcomed my children in 2008 and 2010, and over time and with optimism, cancer was relegated to lower leagues while I threw myself into family life.
Fast forward to early 2015, I developed difficulties with my usually trouble-free back, and at the same time was called for investigations on a suspicious axillary lymph node that had reared its head on a routine check-up.
And so it came…the first strike…the cancer was back!
Then June 16th 2015, the big C bomb dropped…it was stage IV/metastatic breast cancer.
There is no stage V.
So there it is…40 years old with a metastatic cancer diagnosis. Let’s leave that hanging for a moment.
So, what is stage IV/advanced/metastatic breast cancer?
Millions of cancer cells form a tumour. The original cancer in the breast is known as a primary breast cancer. People do not die from cancer that remains in the breast area.
Secondary breast cancer occurs when breast cancer cells spread from the primary cancer in the breast to other parts of the body. This may happen through the lymphatic or blood system.
You may hear it referred to as:
- metastatic breast cancer
- advanced breast cancer
- secondary tumours
- stage 4 breast cancer.
The most common areas breast cancer spreads to are the bones, lungs, liver and brain. When breast cancer spreads, for example to the bones, it is called secondary breast cancer in the bone. The cancer cells in the bone are breast cancer cells.
A diagnosis of secondary breast cancer means that the cancer can be treated but cannot be cured. The aim of treatment is to control and slow down the spread of the disease, to relieve symptoms and to give the best possible quality of life, for as long as possible, but this can vary significantly between individuals.
Information about metastatic/advanced breast cancer can be found at www.secondhope.org.uk
So here I am now living with an illness that will cut my life short one day when the treatment options run out, but I suppose tomorrow is never a given to any one of us. However MOST people will grow old with their loved ones and live to see their children/nieces/nephews move on through their lives, careers, get married and have their own children.
We should perhaps live in the moment more and less emphasis should be put on milestones, but the uncertainty of living with a life limiting illness is not the same as the general uncertainty of everyday living. Nobody knows what might happen when they leave the house each day, but this is different. You do find yourself looking ahead; wondering if you’ll be one of the lucky ones who make double figures, if you'll see your young children hit milestones, guide them through adolescence and less likely into adulthood.
While wading through a sea of uncertainty, I read a comment on a forum about traumatic events happening in our lives for a reason, to make us stronger or help us grow, but this just doesn't sit right with me. Almost immediately I stumbled upon a blog by Tim Lawrence examining the topic of resilience in the face of adversity. He lives with cerebral palsy and epilepsy and believes no one should face adversity alone. He published a post entitled 'Everything Doesn't Happen For A Reason', which really struck a chord with me.
I have never questioned why me? Because I suppose why not me? But like Tim, I cannot accept that there is an underlying reason for the hand I have been dealt. My diagnosis may give me more focus but will taint my life in other ways. Our children may be encouraged into a purposeful life as a result but it will destroy our family unit, and where's the reason in that? My family, friends and our incredible children do not deserve this, and neither do I.
There is often expectation that the only option in these circumstances is to always think positive but the post reinforced that I can give myself permission to be sad and grieve for the life I had and for my young family's future...this is normal behaviour in the face of adversity. So between my own abundance of positivity, strength, resistance and even normality, I am allowed to feel the way I do now and again when the waves of grief and devastation crash over me and sometimes continue their onslaught all day. What I have learned though is that on those days I know I can make it out of the other side and pick myself up, and that as long as I do, our family unit will lso will tarnish my life in others. My children may be encouraged into a purposeful life as a result of this but the other side is that it will destroy our family unit, and where's the reason survive for now. Slowly, quietly, never giving up.
I cannot fix this but I will carry it.
http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2015/10/19/everything-doesnt-happen-for-a-reasonnnot accept that this needs to happen to me in order for me and my family to grow.