Living with MBC
I felt a lump when I was pregnant with my second daughter and it was dismissed by my OB/GYN since she couldn’t feel it during a “normal” physical exam. She assured me that it was probably just a blocked milk duct. As I was sitting on the delivery table nursing my newborn, I was handling my breasts a lot. I could feel that lump all the time! When my doctor walked into the room, I took her hand and placed it directly on the lump. The way I was sitting, she could feel it too. I was in surgery 6 weeks postpartum having a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction with a tram flap. I will never forget the pathology report indicating that a lactating breast had been removed.
At my post-operative appointment, my oncologist told me to go and live my life. I had garden variety breast cancer (DCIS) with no lymph node involvement. So, I followed the doctor’s orders, and I moved on. I was cured! I saw my oncologist every year, and he was very dismissive of my questions and concerns. So four years after my early stage diagnosis, I went to the oncologist who had done my second opinion. She explained that she was using blood biomarkers in her practice as a way to monitor recurrence, and that they were not always accurate. I agreed to have mine drawn, and I left on a ski trip with my family. My girls were 3 and 7.
As I look back now, I remember how tired I was. I dismissed my fatigue since I had two young children, a husband, a job, and a house to clean. I had lost a ton of weight, and there were days I could not remember if I ate anything. This was unusual for someone who loved to eat! I was busy living my life. Like my original oncologist, I dismissed my symptoms.
Needless to say, the blood biomarkers indicated that something was not right. Within two weeks, I was diagnosed with HER2+ ER/PR- stage 4 breast cancer with metastasis to my liver. I was in a state of shock. On the day of my diagnosis, I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I will never forget my oncologist telling me that the statistics were not very good, but that I was not a statistic. This couldn’t be happening to me – a young, healthy mom. No one had ever mentioned the risk of recurrence. I thought that if the breast cancer came back, it would go to my other breast. My liver was fairly diseased, and my tumor was pressing against my stomach causing me not to be very hungry.
It has been 16 years since that diagnosis. I live with many physical, emotional, and psychological side effects from this disease. I also have been fortunate enough to stay alive. Over the last 16 years, I have been on Taxol, Herceptin, Kadcyla, shaped beam radiation treatment, and a vaccine clinical trial with a “booster”. I continue to be treated with Herceptin. Metastatic breast cancer has become a part of my life but it is not my whole life. At times, my entire life stops, and we focus solely on my disease because we have to. Other times, it is only a small part of my life. However, the best part is that I got to raise my two daughters. That “baby” I had when I found that lump 20 years ago, is the young woman on the left in the picture above.
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