This entry was written by Julie Clark, one of the women featured in the Faces of Metastatic Breast Cancer video launched by Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, and Genentech in honor of Metastatic Breast Cancer Day today. Watch the video and $1 will be donated to LBBC for our education and support programs.
beyond – n. something that lies farther ahead
I think about the words living beyond breast cancer, and I wonder if I am. Living beyond. The implication of those words is that it’s no longer with me – that I’ve left it behind. I envision a long-distance runner on a dry, dusty track, sprinting ahead of the others and leaving only tread marks on the path. In some ways I am that runner. Although diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2008, I am told that there is no longer any evidence of disease in my body. And for that, every day, I am grateful.
But some events in life stay with us always, like it or not. We do not move beyond being mothers, for example; we do not leave behind the sadness of the death of a loved one. Nor do we want to. Memory makes our lives textured and rich. And much as I have learned to live with the endurance of the long-distance cancer survivor, much as I want to move beyond this beast’s ugly and awful reality, the trick of cancer is its insidious voice whispering “Here I am” and its ability to keep up.
At times, she has felt as if she were beating me, trying to shove me off the track. She is a monster, this disease that always feels to me like a palpable being, some kind of oily blackness that hid in my breasts and blood and liver. She is evil in her ability to invade both my body and my mind. A doctor thought that she had been cut out, but she was hiding. And when she came back, she was pissed.
So I tried what so many of us have. I poisoned her.
But in her own way she poisoned me, too. One dictionary defines poison as “something harmful or pernicious, as to happiness or well-being.” Yes. For those of you who are surviving this bitch, it is not hard to understand. It is hard to overcome.
Were you a fighter before you heard the words, “You have cancer”? I didn’t know I was. But the instinct I felt when my daughters were born – that survival/teeth bared/depth of love/kill or be killed instinct – kicked in when I was faced with a disease that could rob me of my family, and I fought back.
I still fight back in a number of ways, every day. Once I learned the disease had left my body, I took exercise a lot more seriously. I ate lots of green things that I hadn’t tasted before, swallowed pills as round and dry as buttons, and gave myself permission to slow down – to breathe.
But it’s hard to slow down from the race. I can’t see her on the track behind me, but I worry that she’s there. This is the beyond that’s hard to imagine.
How can I find the strength to move ahead? I see my family cheering me on, their flags waving and their hands clapping. I look in my daughters’ eyes and I feel they have coached me for this, this powerful strength that blossoms from their hearts and surrounds me with a feeling of triumph. And, I realize, that this is what it means to move beyond. But even more important is the first word in the phrase living beyond breast cancer. It is that which we strive for – that beautiful adjective.
Living – adj. active or thriving; vigorous; strong
Julie Clark will be selling signed copies for her new children’s book Your Love is the Best Medicine at LBBC’s annual conference on November 13th. To register or to find out if you’re eligible for a fee waiver for the conference: News You Can Use: Breast Cancer Updates for Living Well, click here.