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.
In 2010, I began a relationship with my now-wife, who was supportive, loving and gentle with me. For a long time, I wore a bra each time we were intimate because of my embarrassment from a lousy breast and nipple reconstruction. Over time, she made me feel comfortable and made me feel accepted enough to show her my “battle scars.” She’d kiss me and assured me of her heart for me and that she understood how deep the battle wounds actually went. She helped me laugh and live beyond my experience with cancer.
During this time, I began feeling ill. I had many doctor’s appointments to try and figure out what was wrong. On November 2, 2011, I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer – specifically bone metastases, metastasis to my right lung and my thyroid. I later learned that the cancer spread to my ovaries. My wife and I were devastated. Now I was on death’s door step. I changed oncologists and drove 1,500 miles to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. My oncologist treated me quickly, and against all odds, the metastases to my lungs, thyroid and ovaries were treated and I survived. The only thing left to tackle was the bone mets, for which I was prescribed anastrozole (Arimidex).
My wife stood by me every day – she went to every appointment with me and we lived in a fifth-wheel trailer in Houston while I received care at MD Anderson for 3 months. At this time we were in our own little world, fighting together – united. She had left her job and home in Boulder, Colorado, to come live with me in Houston, and later my hometown of San Diego. She took care of me and my son.
Still, she became worn to the bone emotionally, mentally and physically from being a caregiver and not practicing self-care. She ended up moving back to Colorado. I moved back with her, and would travel back and forth to MD Anderson for tests and follow-up care.
At this point, because of the cancer treatments and the early onset of menopause, I had gained a tremendous amount of weight: I went from my normal 125 pounds to 180 pounds! As a result, my wife and I now struggle with intimacy. The heartache I feel each day is unbearable at times, but I do not believe we were brought together and fought this battle and won only to break up.
I have a new lease on life, and I am committed to making our relationship work. Being NED brings with it a whole other set of emotions, even some not-so-positive ones because of the trauma: the pricking, prodding, surgeries, and scans are enough to traumatize a person. Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful for every morning I wake up. I send a prayer up thanking God and my higher powers. I take one day at a time, and try to make more time for faith, laughter and living.
Read more about Serenity Kisling and get practical information and resources in our new brochure out later this month, Breast Cancer inFocus: Getting the Care You Need as a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual Person.
Visit lbbc.org/hearmyvoice to read more blog posts in this series.