Hear My Voice: Living the Life of Clichés (That Are True)

LBBC Blog - Scott Cotlar%27s PhotoScott Cotlar writes about living by common clichés for people affected by metastatic breast cancer.

When I was first diagnosed with metastatic male breast cancer, I was not prepared to make any major changes in my life. There were just a few small lesions in my lungs. I was fully functional, working full-time as an attorney and had no interest in changing my daily routine.

That was about 6 years ago. Fast forward to today – lesions in my lung are “too numerous to count” according to the radiologist’s report; 5 bouts of gamma knife radiation of the brain for a total of 13 lesions treated; radiation to most of my spine; and now large metastatic lesions in my liver. Even with all of this, my good quality of life did not change until…a lesion on my tibia (a bone between the knee and the ankle) gave me an “elevated risk for fracture,” requiring that I wear a leg brace and walk with a cane.

The lesion to my tibia was the game changer. All of a sudden, my quality of life was deeply affected: the simple act of walking was no longer quite so simple. I felt an urgent need to “get my affairs in order.” As I write this blog I am preparing for chemotherapy, which I have done my best to avoid for the past 6 years, taking advantage of any hormonal or targeted therapy that I could get my hands on. I am finally starting to feel like a “real cancer patient.” Continue reading

Hear My Voice: Relationships, Faith and Being Declared NED

Serenity KislingSerenity Kisling blogs about navigating her relationships, her strong faith and being declared no evidence of disease.

As I write, it’s the first day of 2014’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’ll be honest: now that I’ve been declared NED (no evidence of disease), I don’t want to watch the Today show’s #PinkPower, or think about cancer. I am so traumatized by the last 7 years, and wondering if I was going to see my son’s third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh birthdays.

However, I want to reflect on my journey. Despite what I have experienced with my health and my family, I got through this journey with metastatic breast cancer through faith, laughter and by living my life.

First, let me say that the breast cancer journey sucks, no matter if you are lesbian or straight. I was initially diagnosed with stage III ER/PR-positive breast cancer in 2008, at age 35. I had a 2-year-old son and a different partner at the time. At that point, my relationship with my partner was rocky, and she was not very emotionally supportive while I had breast cancer. She had no idea what I was going through: being bald from chemo, becoming so sick because of the chemo that I could not drink or eat anything, ending up neutropenic, dehydrated and in the hospital for a week and developing pneumonia.

In 2009, my then-partner and I celebrated when oncologists declared me in remission. We thought life would go back to normal and not the “new normal” commonly associated with post-treatment — just “normal,” period. It seemed like I was better after finishing treatment. I even went back to my hardcore workouts. But then I started feeling fatigue, and with that came insomnia. Life became miserable for various reasons, and I decided to divorce my partner. It was the hardest decision I have had to make thus far in my life. Through all of this, maintaining my positivity (though hard at times) and my faith got me through this major life change.

Something that made me depressed was that the oncologist who declared I was in remission did not discuss preserving my fertility before I proceeded with chemotherapy, and now it’s too late. I had been in survival mode, I had a beautiful son, and having another child hadn’t crossed my mind. I wish now I had frozen my eggs. I would have loved for my wife to carry my child. Even though I live with this regret, I have come to realize that it may not have been meant to be, and I must accept this and cherish my one beautiful son. Continue reading

Hear My Voice: Moving Beyond Awareness

AnnbyKorn1Ann Silberman wants readers to think critically and fund research to help people with metastatic breast cancer reach their goals and milestones.

 

It seemed slightly odd to be asked to write for a website called “Living Beyond Breast Cancer” when, as a woman with metastatic breast cancer, it is only my family who will live beyond cancer. I will merely live with breast cancer until it kills me.  But so much of Pink October has so little to do with those of us who are metastatic that I agreed that our metastatic voices need to be heard this month.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with Stage IIA HER2-positive breast cancer. I did the normal treatment for my diagnosis; mastectomy first, then “TCH” which is 6 rounds of Taxotere and Carboplatin and a year of Herceptin. I cried the night before I lost my breast, I smiled as the nurses handed me my chemo graduation certificate, and my last Herceptin treatment brought great relief. My year of endurance had ended and now I could get fully back to my life.

At my very first 3 month post-treatment appointment, my doctor sent me for a scan, which brought the devastating news: breast cancer had spread to my liver. My cancer is now incurable.

And so I did as we all do – I searched for survival statistics, read stories of struggle and death, and learned acceptance.  I figured out how to live with a terminal illness (and was not always graceful about it).  Finally, I set a goal: I would see my son graduate from high school.

Over the course of the next three years, I was sicker than I ever thought anybody could be, but my doctor did not give up on me, and I did not give up on trying for my son. I had half my liver removed in an effort to eradicate the liver mets, only to find they grew right back. I nearly died from c-diff sepsis that landed me in the ICU and then left me recovering at home, weak and sick, for months. I struggled through 7 different chemotherapy drugs, each with their own side effects, until my marrow would no longer recover and my immune system was gone. I did SBRT radiation on the mets that continued to mutate. And, finally, I was put on Perjeta, which I call my miracle. My mets disappeared into the ether and in May of 2014, I not only watched my Valedictorian son walk with his high school class, but also this September I took him to his college, Caltech, settled him in, and even made his dorm room bed. Despite the odds, I reached my goal. Continue reading

Hear My Voice: Remembering Us in October

SheilaJohnsonGloverSheila Johnson-Glover blogs about the importance of discussing breast cancer in the African-American community and recognizing people who are living with metastatic breast cancer.

When people hear I have stage IV breast cancer, I wonder if they automatically think I’m going to die. No one has ever said that to me, but I still wonder this sometimes. I am a stage IV breast cancer survivor, and I’m proud to say that, because after 5 years, I’m still striving and thriving. I want people to not immediately think of metastatic disease as a death sentence. I want people to understand I still fight just as hard as people with stage I, II or III breast cancer. And as long as researchers continue to develop new medicines, we still have HOPE.

I was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in September 2009 while I was still on active duty in the military. When my doctor told me I had stage IV cancer, I asked, “How many stages are there?” She said, “Sheila, you have the top one.” Is stage IV breast cancer really a death sentence? My answer would be NO.

Still, when I found out I had metastatic breast cancer, my first thought was to ask God, “Am I going to die?” As the years passed, there have been so many different targeted therapies that have been approved for treating HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. The advances in medicine have had a huge impact on my survivorship: I’m currently on Herceptin and Faslodex, and these two medicines have been working amazingly for me. My mother died of stage IV breast cancer in August 2004, and I wish I would have known more about the disease then. I wish she had had the medicines that I’ve been on these past couple of years – maybe she would have lived longer.

I’ve met so many amazing women with metastatic breast cancer and their journeys are truly amazing, as amazing as anyone diagnosed with this disease. However, as an African-American stage IV breast cancer survivor, I haven’t met many other African-American women with this diagnosis. When my mother faced this disease, cancer was not talked about too much in our community. It goes to show that it’s a subject that needs to be addressed and discussed in the African-American community. For African-American women, our mortality rate from breast cancer is much higher than it is for any other races. We need to talk about it. Continue reading

Hear My Voice: The Silver Lining in the Malignancy

Susan RosenSusan Rosen writes about staying positive in spite of her diagnosis with metastatic breast cancer. 

 

When I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer on August 10, 2010, I never questioned the diagnosis. I never asked, “Why me?” I would deal with the diagnosis and treatment and move forward.

Not this time.

In September 2013, my cancer metastasized to my bones, liver and dura (the outer covering of the brain). After more testing, a primary thyroid cancer was also discovered.

I went through a range of emotions. I was angry, I was mad. How could this happen to me when I took all the right precautions? My oncologist reassured me that I did all I could. It didn’t matter.

When my oncologist delivered my diagnosis, he brought up an image on a computer screen. It was the image of my body, all lit up. He looked sad. 
He said the cancer has spread. He was so sorry. My oncology nurse cried. I cried. My husband looked lost.

We then needed to tell our children. My daughter is 19, and a sophomore in college. My son is 15, and a sophomore in high school. It was not easy telling them last year, as they both adjusted to their freshman years. However, we have been sharing all news, good or bad, with our kids since the beginning of this journey.

Within a few weeks we all adjusted as well as we could to this devastating news. It was time to move forward, and begin treatment. I started chemotherapy right away. I felt weak and tired, but I did not lose my hair! I am now on hormonal therapy and a bone medicine.

I am feeling fine and handling my situation well… most days. I have my moments, especially when I think of my husband and kids.  Continue reading

It’s About You: Kate Garza’s Story

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KateGarza2 for 5 28Kate Garza is back with a new blog post for our fall conference blogging series, It’s About You. The yoga instructor, writer, wife and mother of three discusses the “breast cancer journey” concept, while discussing her own and her anticipation of Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences.

Everyone calls it a journey – the breast cancer journey. And if I weren’t so sick of that term, I would use it, too. It is descriptive to a point, and it allows other people to remember that you are not living the life you had in mind anymore. But this so-called “journey” is really more the life equivalent of being kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a car and driven in the dark to an unknown location. That’s the image that flares in my mind anyway, when I hear “journey with breast cancer,” a junket with only sketchy clues about where you may end up. 

I was diagnosed with stage II invasive breast cancer at age 53, almost 2 years ago now, when my kids were 15, 16 and 17 years old. Life would have been complex enough with three kids moving up and out, but throw breast cancer on top of that project and I had more moving parts than I could track with sophisticated software. 

I had a fairly garden variety diagnosis of estrogen receptor-positive/HER2-negative breast cancer. I followed the standard treatment with lumpectomy, 8 cycles of chemo and 30 doses of radiation therapy. It was the most difficult health crisis I had run across in my life and treatment left me exhausted and brain-fried, but grateful that I traversed without complication. I finished a week before number one graduated from high school. After a month off for R&R, I began taking an aromatase inhibitor (AI), letrozole. 

After 3 months of difficult joint pain side effects, I switched to anastrozole. Again, the difficulties with pain and mobility arrived, but I stayed with the second medicine for 6 months until, completely frustrated and full of pain with every movement, I gave up. I was done. I couldn’t see the point of prolonging a life that felt this bad. Did I mention that I am a yoga instructor? I couldn’t move. Not even enough to practice the yoga that might help me feel better. And working, in my chosen profession, was out of the question. So by the time my second child graduated this past June, I was 2 months into my medication vacation and starting to feel much better. I could move again. Pain with walking and the sleepless nights were beginning to fade away.  Continue reading

LBBC’s Annual Fall Conference is for You!

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LBBC’s Annual Fall Conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, has a new look and feel. Catherine Ormerod, VP of Programs and Partnerships shares her highlights for the conference, taking place on Saturday, September 27, 2014 Philadelphia, PA.

Catherine-Ormerod 1Breast cancer research and treatments are constantly changing. It can be difficult to stay current with and understand the impact of these changes on you and your life. That’s why we have adapted this conference to connect you to trusted specific information. Consulting with some of the nation’s leading health specialists, this year’s conference will offer tracks to help you access the specific information that you’re seeking.

At the Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences conference you will get the unique medical information you seek for your specific type of breast cancer, while connecting you to others in a supportive environment. Our tracks are:

  • Triple-negative: presented in partnership with Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation
  • Hormone receptor-positive or HER2-positive
  • Metastatic

You can choose to follow a track or attend individual sessions based on your diagnosis or concerns. Our sessions will include information about the latest in breast cancer news, treatments and care and wellness. They will be presented by renowned breast cancer experts such as Virginia Borges, MD, MMSc; Clifford A. Hudis, MD; Rita Nanda, MD and Marisa C. Weiss. Topics will range from targeted therapies, metastatic breast cancer clinical trials, managing the side effects of chemotherapy and more, plus an engaging closing plenary, Thriving! A Discussion on Living Well – Body, Mind and Soul.

Attending a conference is a great way to not only get the latest information, but to connect with others and build a community of support. We often hear how long lasting friendships were created at LBBC conferences. I encourage you to take advantage of the many ways to share your experience – there will be breaks throughout the day, a special luncheon, closing reception and meetup groups organized by shared interests.

Registration for the conference is $50 per person but if you register before September 5th you will receive our early-bird discounted rate of $40 per person. We offer a limited number of travel grants and fee waivers on a first come, first served basis. Special thanks to Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation’s for its support of travel grants to women diagnosed with triple-negative disease.

Visit lbbc.org/fallconference to register for the conference, apply for a fee waiver or travel grant and to learn more about our speakers and conference sessions.

I hope you can join us in Philadelphia this September!

Catherine Ormerod
VP, Programs and Partnerships, Living Beyond Breast Cancer
cormerod@lbbc.org
P.S. – Follow #LBBCconf on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for conference updates, staff picks on where to eat in our hometown of Philadelphia, what to see and much more!