Why I’m An Ally For The MBC Community
I was asked to write about being an ally for the metastatic breast cancer (MBC) community as an “early stage” breast cancer survivor. I put the words “early stage” in quotes because although I was stage 3 out of four possible stages, my cancer had the potential to be cured, unlike stage 4 which is cancer that has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes to other parts of the body. At this point cancer is considered incurable.
I am sure that some people I know think, “so you had cancer and it was hard but now you are fine so move on with your life already!” You know, like in the movies when the woman gets diagnosed with breast cancer and she breezes through treatment, runs a marathon and life is greater than it was before? I wish it were that simple and maybe for some people it is. I don’t judge people who are able to just move on after a cancer diagnosis and I know that for some people they need to do this for their own mental health and I fully respect that.
But for others, like me, it is very difficult.
CONSTANT REMINDERS STILL EXIST IN MY LIFE:
- Ongoing preventative treatments that have horrible side effects which greatly affected my quality of life and that have caused me to be taken to the hospital by ambulance twice (once on my bus ride to work)
- Monthly visits to the chemotherapy unit for injections that are too big for me to give to myself
- Follow-up appointments with my chemotherapy oncologist, radiation oncologist and periodic scans
- Having had to put fertility on hold not knowing if I would eventually be able to have any more babies due to my treatments
- Scans every time a new symptom, ache or pain presents itself; not knowing if this will lead to hearing the terrible words that my cancer is back
- Having people you know get diagnosed and trying to help them through the whole ordeal
- Having to balance work and family with reduced cognitive ability and stamina
- Having to admit that I am not able to keep up with things the way that I did before my treatments began (very difficult for a lifelong overachiever)
- Having friends whose cancer has recurred, as well as losing friends who were diagnosed at the same time as me, some whose cancer was caught at a much earlier stage
- Attempting to comfort a mother whose child is no longer alive because of this horrific disease; hugging a husband who has lost the love of his life or worst of all, seeing young children in tears over the loss of their Mom
Despite all of this, to date, I have been one of the lucky ones. I cannot pretend to know what it must be like to live with a metastatic diagnosis and I can only imagine how difficult it is. That being said, my experience with cancer has only added fuel to my fire to find a way to help.
In the past I have volunteered to help establish and run Rethink Breast Cancer’s Live, Laugh, Learn program in Ottawa as well as volunteered as part of Rethink’s Peer Support program. After a few years of doing this and a few years of losing amazing women that I had met along the way, it was all beginning to take a mental toll on me. I needed a break. The losses were devastating.
But in the end, for me not doing anything was worse. So I thought long and hard about what I could do to help, while attempting to protect my mental well-being. The best solution for me was to help in ways where I could make an impact while trying to keep a bit at arms length. I stepped away from Peer Support and started to focus my efforts on advocacy and fundraising for cancer research specifically metastatic cancer research. I joined the Metastatic Run for the Cure team, where we could ensure that 100% of our fundraised money went to metastatic cancer research. I volunteered with Rethink’s MBC In the Dark campaign and met with MPPs in Toronto to advocate for quicker access to cancer medications for patients with metastatic cancer. Although these are ways for me to balance my desire to help while protecting my mental health , it still isn’t always easy. I still lose friends and every run I attend there is not a minute that they are not with me as I run. That being said, I have to do something. You feel so helpless sometimes and this is the least I can do.
Now to get back to the initial question of why I think it is important for me to be an ally for the MBC community:
HERE ARE MY REASONS:
- People with metastatic breast cancer have better things to do, with less time. They should not have to spend their energy between treatments and scans advocating for themselves. That time is better spent with family, friends and accomplishing their dreams.
- I have lost too many friends at incredibly young ages to cancer. Cancer is horrible at any age but it is particularly cruel when you have just given birth to a child or graduated from college and are just about to begin your dream career.
- Jamie, Sarah, Dawn, Katie, Danielle and Catherine; my friends that died from metastatic breast cancer after having been diagnosed in their 20s and early 30s.
- Vesna and Julie; my friends who live with metastatic breast cancer after having been diagnosed in their 30s.
- The young children of my friends with metastatic breast cancer that have had to grow up way too fast and deal with way too much in their short lives.
- The parents I know that have lost their daughters as their daughter’s lives were just beginning.
- Husbands who were working hard to build a life and family only to have it all taken away by this terrible disease.
- Despite having NO family history of breast cancer and having been diagnosed at age 31 with stage 3 breast cancer, there is an increased risk that I could be diagnosed with MBC some day.
- My daughter and all of the other women in my life including my sister and Mom.
- So that I will never have to attend another funeral of an amazing young woman who is gone well before her time.
Thank you for reading and please if you are able, I would really appreciate if you could help in anyway that is feasible for you. It could be as simple as donating to Rethink’s MBC Fund to support MBC programming and research, to joining Rethink’s MBC advocacy efforts as an ally. There are so many ways to help and hopefully you can find the way that is right for you. – Catherine Birch
Women with MBC need you to be their Ally. Sign the pledge today.