On April 28th and 29th, 2012, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host its Sixth Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. In preparation for that event along with our video blog series, we introduced Pat Biedermann, an LBBC Helpline volunteer who happens to be living with metastatic breast cancer. In this multi-series, Pat will share with you–not only her story–but her “tricks and tips” on how to live (and live well) with the disease.
Here are the “facts” I use to justify my positive attitude:
View Cancer As Unique
One of my many doctors once said: “Cancer is an army of one,” meaning that each case is distinctive and different. I have learned not to compare my condition with anyone else’s. Everyone knows someone with cancer. When diagnosed, I heard even more stories. I met people who had the same primary cancer and were on the same protocol who did not live. That did not mean my cancer would react that way. Cancer is an individual disease with personal characteristics and distinctive case by case reactions. While some side effects to treatments can be anticipated, they are only that—side effects –and do not determine the effectiveness of the drugs themselves.
When I started my current chemo (Taxol and Avastin) sixteen months ago, I was handed a four page list of potential side effects. It was pretty scary reading how some of the potential side effects could be as bad, if not worse, than the cancer itself. It stopped me in my tracks and gave me pause as to whether I even wanted to take this course of action. It was at this point that I visited a wonderful woman and spiritual healer. She told me if I did not start the chemo, I would not be here much longer. This was not what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear. I very much wanted to live so I knew then what action I needed to take. I heeded her advice and moved forward.
I feel very blessed with my doctor. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is to me. Over the years, many cancer patients confided in me that while they believe their doctors are competent, they do not share a rapport with them or feel the doctors are receptive to discussing alternative (holistic) treatments as well as traditional western treatments.
I put an emphasis on Western Medicine (by which I mean a system whereby doctors treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery) so that I can state emphatically that I absolutely believe western medicine has helped save my life and continues to contribute to my goal of co-existing with my cancer. It is the Western medicine that keeps my cancer at bay while Chinese medicine and other protocols vastly improve my quality of life. I do a great deal of research concerning various holistic and alternative ideas. My doctor is very patient with my questions and thoughts. I believe that she, at least, respects my views and allows me to embrace them as long as they are not counter-productive to my treatments. Over the years, I have repeatedly challenged her. She really does have the patience of a saint.
Treat my stage IV cancer as a chronic condition
Will this cancer progress: possibly – probably. However, I will not bury my head in the sand and take a passive stand. It’s not in me. Sure I have bad days—many of them—but they pass. And I have a “secret weapon” that allows me to keep my positive attitude even as I write about the inevitable progression of my chronic condition. I have the self-confidence to know that each step of the way I will adapt. There is no throwing in the towel. When I decided to treat my cancer as a chronic disease that I would learn to live with, instead of something that I had to ‘beat’, my demeanor and outlook took a quantum leap forward!
I began to respond to my cancer as I would any chronic condition, such as diabetes, severe allergies, or a bad back. I thought of any condition which would require me to make accommodations to live as harmoniously as possible. People do this all the time. Did I actually compare a chronic back problem with stage IV cancer? Yes, in a sense, I did. I determined to respond, personally, in the same way I would to any condition that caused me to alter my daily life in order to live as fully as possible.
Again, my most potent personal weapon is keeping a positive attitude and I do this by concentrating on the uniqueness of my condition, the inspiration of the exceptional patient, relegation of my condition from a terminal disease to a chronic condition, and choosing to be a long-term survivor.
The second most important element in my life was learning to live with stress. If you Google the expression “definition of stress” you get over fifty-four million entries. While it may be hard to define, stress is easy to recognize. Everyone has stress in their lives, some more than others, because stress is unavoidable. What I have learned over the years is that I have always internalized and held on to stress. I was a pressure cooker just waiting to explode. Even after my original diagnosis in June 2002, even after I went through the mastectomy and chemo, I didn’t address how I dealt with stress. I thought I could just get back on the horse and proceed as usual- making no real adjustment. It was not until my fourth recurrence that I realized I better wake up. Now I am fully aware. While my life still has lots of stress, I have totally altered how I choose to handle it.
join us again next Wednesday for a new installment where Pat offers her insight on “Stress Management.”
Pat enjoy walks out in nature, reading and spending time with family and friends. Visit our website for more information on the Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer and to Register for the April event. Additional resources can be found through LBBC’s Understanding Guides: Metastatic Breast Cancer Series. Later this year, LBBC will produce a guide for women newly diagnosed with metastatic cancer.