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Holly: Making Memories

On April 1, 2011, at age 37, my world changed, as I became the first person I had ever known with Metastatic Breast Cancer. There was no breast cancer in my family, I was healthy, exercised, ate right, and had never smoked. How could this possibly have happened to me?

After several days of scans, biopsies, and tests, I at least knew what I was up against. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma with dozens of small spots on my lungs and a handful on my liver. Upon hearing the diagnosis for the first time, my first thought was “I can’t die. My daughter is only 7.”

It didn’t take long for the reality of this disease to hit me. I realized I’ll never retire or make it to all the vacation spots I’ve dreamed about. I’ll never teach my daughter to drive, take her to college, or see her get married. I am confident I’ll celebrate a 40th birthday, but am unsure about other milestone birthdays.

My life has changed immensely in the past 18 months, as does anyone’s who has faced this monster. I find myself working harder to make memories for my daughter and to really be there for her. I give her my full attention when watching her swimming lessons and skating lessons because I want her to look up and know that the smile on my face is for her, not someone I’m texting or talking to. I find myself thinking about how I want her to remember me and trying to make sure my words and actions reflect that. Sometimes I fail and I regret something I’ve said or done, as most parents do at some time or another. So I take a deep breath, remind myself of what is really important, and keep moving forward.

I spend free time putting scrapbooks together, writing down memories of my childhood so she’ll know about me, and writing letters to her to be opened on birthdays, graduations, weddings, and other milestones in her life. We’ve always had a bedtime routine of reading, cuddling and saying, “I love you”, but after diagnosis, that “I love you” started including “Forever and always- no matter what.” I hope that one day, that will be a comforting memory for her.

At my first oncology appointment, I learned of a clinical trial I was eligible for. I eagerly signed up for it, and even though I was in the control group, I was so relieved to be doing something. After 8 months of chemo, I got the good news that my CT scans were no longer picking up any sign of cancer. I was lucky to have another 8 months on maintenance meds before I got a recurrence this past July. I am now on different medication to treat my ER+/PR+/Her2+ cancer. Maybe this new treatment will work for a long time; maybe it won’t. Either way, I know I still have several other treatment options available.

I can’t die right now. My daughter is only 8.