Pinktober Guest Post: Melissa Ross

Pink-to-ber n A portmanteau coinage used by many people who live with breast cancer to refer to October, the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is heavily dominated by marketing in the color pink and cute tags like “Save the tatas”. (See Komen, etc.)

During the month of October 2013, I am running guest posts from people with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) or who are closely involved with someone who has MBC. This was the idea of the wonderful Jody Schoger, and I think some other breast cancer bloggers are participating, too.

Today we are hearing from another young woman with metastatic cancer, Melissa Ross. Melissa already had Stage IV breast cancer when she was diagnosed at not quite forty-one years of age. That was four years ago, and today Melissa is NED (has no evidence of disease). “I accept that the cancer is not gone, never will be, unless some miracle in research happens in the next few years,” she writes. “We ride the same train.” Melissa has a special message to share. Let’s listen and give her a very warm welcome!

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I read a lot of blogs about what people don’t like about breast cancer, the treatments, the ridiculous things that people say and do when they find out you have it, the pain, the fear, the anger.  All of this is true and real, and everyone who is diagnosed with the disease has every right to voice these things.  When I was initially diagnosed, I had many of these same feelings, and some days I still do.  But today I want to write about another aspect of breast cancer, at least for me.  My diagnosis, like anyone who is diagnosed with a serious illness, was life changing. Change, any kind of change, is not inherently bad or good.  It has both bad and good, if you look for them.  Too often in the world we only talk about all the bad things that happen, and don’t put enough emphasis on the good things.  So today I want to write about some of the good things that have come out of this experience for me.  This may not be true for everyone, we each have our own path to walk, but this is my path.

I no longer wait for things to start.  “When I turn 21 I will travel the world”, “when I buy my first house I will have children”, “when I pay off my debts I will remodel my bathroom”.  Well, I never traveled the world at 21, and I can no longer have children, so I am not waiting to have that bathroom I have always dreamed of.  We are taught that there must be an order to our life, a time to do certain things, but this can be so misleading.  Go to school, get a job, find a mate, get married, have kids, buy a house, retire. It does not always hold true, nor should it have to.  My cancer threw me out of the framework that I had built for myself, it made me realize that my life can be whatever I want it to be, I don’t have to wait for the right time, or place, or situation.  This has allowed me to enjoy wonderful experiences, see beautiful places, and meet amazing people.  All things I would have missed out on because the “time” wasn’t right.

I love my life.  Really love it.  I love waking up and seeing the sunlight through the window, smelling the air, walking the dog.  I love that I am alive, even the so called “bad” things about life.  Do I have pain?  Yes.  But better to have pain than having nothing.  Do I get angry?  Yes.  But isn’t it wonderful that I get to feel the amazing emotions than to have nothing at all?  Perhaps truly accepting that I will not have this forever, that I will one day leave this world and all the crazy, screwed up, fantastic things that are in it, makes me appreciate it all the more, and that whatever comes after this will not be the same, that I will never see that sunlight again, never feel the fire of my anger, never have the physical sensations that we too often take for granted.  Life, any life, is truly a blessing, without it, there is nothing.

I am a happy person.  When I catch myself not being happy, whether its stress over work, stupid drivers, or idiots blabbering away on TV, I realize that my unhappiness is not due to the world, it is due to me, specifically, my expectation that things should be different than they are.  I try very hard to let go of these expectations, to choose to be happy.  I now know that happiness is not determined by something outside of me, it is mine, I own it, and nothing can change that except me.

Would I return all of this to not have cancer?  Of course I would, I’d be an idiot not to, but it is not an option that is available to me, so I must take the things I have been given, both good and bad, and make the best of them.  In the end, that is all anyone can do.

Pinktober Guest Post: Chris Welander

Pink-to-ber n A portmanteau coinage used by many people who live with breast cancer to refer to October, the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is heavily dominated by marketing in the color pink and cute tags like “Save the tatas”. (See Komen, etc.)

During the month of October 2013, I am running guest posts from people with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) or who are closely involved with someone who has MBC. This was the idea of the wonderful Jody Schoger, and I think some other breast cancer bloggers are participating, too.

Chris Welander is our guest writer today. Chris is a minority within a minority: one of our youthful sisters-in-mets. Diagnosed ten years ago at only 37 years of age, Chris tells her story in a voice that is both strong and plaintive.

I was in shock.

I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 at age 37. I hit it hard with a double mastectomy, oophorectomy and 10 weeks of chemo. I had a huge breast cancer team. Raised a lot of money for mammograms Went to support groups and really assumed I beat it. I didn’t worry. My iron will plus hard years of treatment was going to fix this.

When I found out two years ago that it had spread to my hip I was shocked. More treatment, lots of surgeries. I left work, lost touch with friends. Thank God for my metastatic support group but I was still young comparatively to many of the members. I felt freaky and lonely.

Last month my cancer spread to my liver after months of completely clean scans. More shock and boy do I feel gypped! I wanted to grow old with my partner. I want to contribute to society with my career and help my mom enter her twilight years. I want to see the pyramids, cook a hundred Italian recipes and read all my bedside books. Now I just make my friends and family sad. I talk to lawyers, doctors, financial planners and make THEM sad. I feel forgotten and still have to fight for care, for my rights and to be heard.

I think all discussion about breast cancer is better than the shame in the old days of not even saying the word “breast”. So I don’t have an issue with pink-azation. But I am invisible in the breast cancer community absolutely…mostly because women can be so stubborn. Like I didn’t work hard enough. Let me tell you I did. And being younger ironically works against my survival. You know what I need now? Money for a trip, cheaper prescriptions, people to say loving things to my partner instead of always asking how I am. And a resolution that agrees metastatic patients have been ignored and that more will be done to fund treatment for us and those after us.

Can it happen? Can we will that?

Pinktober Guest Post: Kate

Pink-to-ber A portmanteau coinage used by many people who live with breast cancer to refer to October, the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is heavily dominated by marketing in the color pink and cute tags like “Save the tatas”. (See Komen, etc.)

During the month of October 2013, I am running guest posts from people with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) or who are closely involved with someone who has MBC. This was the idea of the wonderful Jody Schoger, and I think some other breast cancer bloggers are participating, too.

Today we will hear from Kate, who blogs at Kate Has Cancer. In her mid-forties and the mother of a young child, Kate writes “One thing I think I need to do is improve breast cancer awareness by sharing my experience.” It’s an honor and a delight to host Kate as she shares it here. Please welcome her warmly!

Two Years Under the Mets

Two years ago this month, I really wasn’t worried about the lump my gynaecologist had just found on my breast. You see, it felt just like one I’d had five years before on the other breast — a fullness that went away after it had been determined to be benign. 

This time, I was wrong. But for a couple of weeks, I didn’t know the lump was actually invasive ductal breast cancer. I didn’t know that my weird blood test results were a reflection of the tumours that riddled my liver. And I didn’t know that my aching back wasn’t “out” but broken in several places.

After all, like many people, all I knew was that October = breast cancer = pink. I didn’t know that for most women who get breast cancer, it doesn’t run in their families. I sure didn’t know that men get breast cancer. I didn’t know that in about 10% of the new diagnoses, breast cancer has already spread to distant organs before it’s found. All I had was this vague notion that breast cancer was an easy cancer. 

Foolishly, I didn’t know that metastasized breast cancer cannot be cured. And advanced breast cancer was what I had. Easy cancer? It sure wasn’t easy telling my little girl I have cancer.  No, these last two years haven’t been easy at all.

October of 2011 was eye-opening for me, in many ways. Yet, for a long time, I had trouble believing it was true. Day after day, I would have to remind myself that they had done a biopsy…on my own breast…and it was cancer. But I was supposed to live to be one hundred, like my grandmother almost did. Yet, there I was, dying before my husband’s eyes. Until treatment started, that is. Though it looked very dark for some time, chemo and Herceptin shrunk my tumours.  Then I switched to Tamoxifen, which has held things stable.

My hair is regrown, and I’m walking better, but I know I’m not cured. Two years after my eye-opening Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there is still no cure for breast cancer. And a cure is what I need. Some educated awareness would be nice too.

My little girl tells me that nothing is impossible. She’s a smart girl; maybe she’s right.