The Second Time Around
By Hilary Hamilton
The tricky part with Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) is figuring out how to navigate the journey the second time around. In 2015, my diagnosis was Stage 2, with a five-year survival rate of 92 percent. I liked those odds. I knew treatment would be hard, but there was an end in sight. I had 14 chemotherapy sessions, six surgeries, a double mastectomy, and 29 radiation treatments -- all that to be cancer-free. Or so I thought.
On January 29, 2020, a CAT scan showed tumors in my lungs, liver, and lymph nodes in my chest. On that day, my old cancer-free life left me and. Aa new one began. I am no longer a breast cancer survivor; I am Stage IV, with a 5-year survival rate of 22 percent. I wouldn't say I liked those odds. It's all I thought about when I woke to the moment I went to bed. Even though my oncologist reassured me that many of her patients live with MBC for years, the idea that this cancer is terminal, robbing me of precious time with my kids, husband, and family was so profound that I felt like I was drowning. With any new pain or ache, I was convinced it was spreading to my brain and bones. In the glow of my laptop, I'd pour over the Internet searching the signs of METS in the brain and bones until the wee hours of the morning. I'd then put on a cheery face, marching forward with a tight smile, keeping it together for my three kids.
It's been eight months since my MBC diagnosis, and I've had eight cycles of a targeted therapy drug, Ibrance, combined with Faslodex shots. While fatigue is my new companion, the treatment is more tolerable than before, except for the two giant horse shots I get in my rump every month. I've grown to appreciate the nurses' steady hands as their latex fingers hold the glass syringe for two longs minutes that it takes for each injection. The good news is my treatment is working. My tumors are shrinking, and my latest scans showed the four tumors in my liver are down to one. The lesions that covered both lungs like inkblots are now 65% gone. I can breathe a little easier, literally and figuratively.
There are still some dark days where the fatigue consumes me, and I am tired just walking upstairs. I worry that my cancer has become the backdrop of my kids' childhood. I don't want them to look back and remember a mom who was always tired. When I start to spin out, I remind myself that I am not my thoughts. I remind myself that I'm breathing; I'm living. All I have is now, and in this now, I'll listen to the whisper of my soul that says you will be okay. I can live in fear or faith. I chose faith. I am grounded in the reality of my illness, but buoyed by hope. I'm ready to learn what this cancer is here to teach me, the second time around.