In 1996, on my 50th birthday, I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer to my bones. I had never had cancer. I was a runner, and for a few months my back had been aching, especially when I ran. Eventually I had an MRI, which indicated I had some kind of cancer in my spine. Several weeks later I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, estrogen/progesterone positive. The pathology report indicated breast cancer, but the site of the cancer in my breast has never been found.
For ten years I was successfully treated with Tamoxifen and Arimidex. I also had radiation to my fourth lumbar area, and was started on Zometa to keep my bones strong. I continued to work part time, and was very active physically, although my back frequently ached after exercise. After ten years I experienced progression in my bones and was treated with several other hormonal medications. Eventually I had to switch to a non-hormonal treatment, Xeloda. I also developed pain in my jaw area, which was diagnosed as osteonecrosis. This was linked to my long-term use of Zometa. Surgery was necessary to clear up the infection and to remove as much of the dead bone as possible.
Late last spring I developed problems walking. Tests indicated new mets to my back and groin area. I started chemo by infusion, which was very depressing and frightening for me. I limped when I walked, and had to give up all physical activity except for kayaking. My daughter had twins this past summer, and I often helped her, although my legs and back bothered me so much that it took away from the pleasure of having new granddaughters. Fortunately, in November, the chemo started working and I can once again walk without problems. I’m exercising carefully, and hope to get some physical therapy to help me with several other new spine problems, including age related spinal deterioration and several bulging discs.
My feelings about having cancer for fifteen years are very mixed. Of course I’m angry and sad about it, and am terrified every time I need to change treatments. I also feel guilty that I’ve lived so long while so many of my friends have died.
I am grateful I have a supportive husband and family, great friends and outstanding medical care. I have been able to travel, and to enjoy summer and winter sports. At times I’ve been able to row on the Charles River with a group for women with breast cancer. Throughout the years, I’ve been involved in various support groups. I also volunteer for an agency connected with the juvenile court system. This Thanksgiving my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving for thirty-nine relatives, although of course, I received lots of help. Our three children are grown, and all are doing well. I have five healthy granddaughters.
I find that it helps me to keep busy and to focus on and remind myself of the healthy aspects of my life. It is important to me to pursue my interests and to stay involved in the relationships and activities that give me meaning. I love being active and I’m determined that my cancer will not control my life.