Falling – A Story For Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day
I’m going to tell you a little bit about my story.
It doesn’t represent all of me, but it is a defining moment in the journey of my life, and I share it in hopes of changing the story of others on a similar path. It’s the part about being diagnosed with breast cancer and then being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer just a few years later.
I’m a wife to a loving husband, and mother to three beautiful children. I am a daughter, a niece, a Godmother, an aunt, a friend. I have a lot of stories about the people that I love so, so much. When we share special moments together, my heart is both filled and broken at the very same time. That’s the hardest part about having an incurable diagnosis, one that I’m not ready to call terminal, but … you know.
I was originally diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2012. I knew the statistics related to recurrence and I knew my personal risk, the one that factored in my stage, tumour grade, lymph node involvement, and treatment course. I was at a low risk to recur; about 12% is what the statistical testing indicated. So I knew there was the possibility of a metastatic recurrence, but I also knew that there was an even better chance that I’d fall on the right side of the statistics. I didn’t.
Prior to my diagnosis with MBC in 2017, I had been coughing and coughing and coughing. Coughing so much I broke two ribs. But despite that, it took almost 6 months to get diagnosed. Because everyone – medical staff included – thought it had to be something other than cancer again. But it was cancer, having returned with a vengeance – in my lungs, in my lymph nodes, in the vertebrae of my neck. My early-stage diagnosis of 2012 was just a tease.
I started treatment the same day I met my new oncologist. We had ‘The Talk’ and he sent my husband to the pharmacy for my very first dose. Time was of the essence, and he wasn’t playing around.
And then time did pass, and treatment continued. I could breathe a little better. I only coughed every other minute, then every few minutes, then every hour, then sometimes long stretches.
Today I’m holding steady. The cancer’s there, but not growing like the crazy that it can. Every wheeze and ache and stiffness reminds me it hasn’t left this body. Only recently, I had my 35th round of treatment. Over 100 injections, countless pills, blood work and scans to get me here, and I celebrate this milestone, but know that it could all change in an instant. Because from the get-go, I was told I’ll never be cured. Eventually, the cancer will grow despite the treatment and I’ll grieve at the loss; grieve just as hard as when I was diagnosed because that’s one option out of only a handful of options that I have.
In the meantime, I try and live my life; make memories, find magic, be happy…but I’m always waiting. Waiting for that week off treatment where my body starts to recover before I have to go in for more. Waiting for my next treatment to keep the cancer at bay, the one that keeps hope afloat. Waiting for my turn to see my doctors, because there’s so many of us and so few of them to go around; and the worst one of them all, waiting for that next scan, the one that tells me I’ve got progression, and it’s time to move on.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. For most of us with MBC, you get off this ride in about three years, a few make it just past five, and the smallest handful are in it for the long-term.
And it takes its toll. It all weighs so very heavy. I’d love to have the lightness of living a life without having to think about cancer every single day but I hardly remember what that’s even like anymore. So it’s not easy and you make the best of it. And you hope that if you share your story, someone will take notice and remember you and try to make things better with a sense of urgency, in whatever way they can.
Make it better by offering new treatments when the current one fails. Make it better by streamlining the process to get medications to the patients who desperately need them. Make it better by investing in research that will improve my odds of surviving once and for all. Make it better by becoming an ally to the metastatic community so that when our voices fail us, you are there to keep up the good fight for us all.
Last I heard, I had about a 22% chance of living five years after my diagnosis, but sometimes you get wind that maybe this is improving. I hope so. Because as it stands now, I have a really poor chance of making it to my 50’s. My youngest won’t even be a teenager yet. Please let that sink in; but please don’t let those details just make you feel pity for me; make those details empower you with resolve to be my ally.
For those diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, the ones past the active treatment phase who are seeing parts of their life return to some stability, I need you to see me. You are adjusting to the new normal that I once knew. An ally for the MBC community is an ally for yourselves; one more person who is standing up to create change, so that fewer and fewer of us fall on the wrong sides of the statistics. I have many stories to tell, but my hope is that this one is your catalyst to create the change that we all want to see. -Vesna Zic-Côté
Women with MBC need you to be their Ally. Sign the pledge today.
Vesna Zic-Côté is a member of Rethink’s Metastatic Breast Cancer Advisory Board. Initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, Vesna is now in active treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) since early 2017.