At 43 years old, I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It was a little before Christmas in 2010. I found a lump in my right breast, and I’d had lumps before, so I wasn’t overly worried, overly concerned. I had cystic breasts, so I kind of knew the procedure. They usually tell me “Cut back on your caffeine” and “Make sure you’re getting enough sleep” and “Watch your stress level and see if it resolves on its own…” So I kind of knew from experience to do those things.
In March, it still hadn’t gone away. In fact, it felt like it was getting larger, and nothing really changed around it, so I assumed I needed to go and get it checked. March 16, I had a doctor’s appointment with a new doctor, and she felt it and just said, “It’s worrisome. You should have an ultrasound.”
Again, I’d had those before. The tech looked at my ultrasound very briefly, and then said she’d be right back and left the room. She went and talked to the radiologist, and when she came back into the room she said, “I got permission from the doctor. I can tell you’re not really phased by this, but I think it’s fair that we tell you we think it really is very worrisome for cancer. It has a lot of characteristics. We’re fairly certain that it is cancer.”
And then she showed me the ultrasound, and I could just see these big, red, angry splotches leaping off the screen. I thought, “Oh, dear, I’m in trouble.”
So they did a mammogram, and then they did a biopsy and sent it to pathology. A few days later it came back, and it was breast cancer. And then things just moved really, really quickly.
I went to see the doctor on Monday morning, and he proceeded to set me with all the different tests that were going to be done. They said it looked like stage III, but they had to check the rest of my body to make sure it hadn’t spread. So I had a PET scan.
That Friday, an hour before I was going to start chemo, the doctor walked in and said, “It has spread. It’s in your spine, and there are a couple of lymph nodes that have it, and it’s in your liver. So this changes everything.” I went from being stage III to being stage IV practically overnight.
I was completely blindsided. It was the most completely overwhelming moment in my life. Everything slows down around you. Your world gets very, very small. the toughest thing for me in dealing with cancer has been having to face the fear over and over and over again. Every day it feels like you’re walking with fear…so many unknowns that you have to face and figure out a way to get yourself through.
That still stands true today. I’m a little bit more comfortable with the fear, but it never really leaves you.
For the most part, my boys took it in stride, though at times I see glimmers of how it affects them. They don’t want to be very far away from me. Neither one of them is very excited to go to a sleep over at a friend’s house. Sometimes I’ll wake up and I’ll have both boys in my bedroom, sleeping on the floor, just to be sure that they wake up and I’m still there. There’s an overly protective, very sensitive compassion that’s been building in the two of them.
We don’t talk about the gravity of the situation. We just try to live fully in every moment that we’re given, and that’s what we’re really trying to impress upon them. Life is about the now, and let’s just have our best day today, as none of us are promised tomorrow.
I also started a blog – The Westra World – so I could document their lives because I wasn’t very good at doing baby books, and I’m not a scrapbooker, so I started writing the story of our life. I didn’t realize that it might be something more valuable in hindsight. I have definitely included my cancer journey in my blog and have been very open about that. It’s been very well received. It’s a little overwhelming at times, but we feel very grateful of the abundance that’s come into our lives.
I’ve faced being told that I’m terminal, that breast cancer will be what will take my life. And if you can look at me and tell me, “we think we now have a cure for that, and that you might die of old age” …it would mean everything to me.
It’s going to take our research dollars to go to researchers who are looking for the cure. We spend a lot of money and a lot of time on awareness. I think we’re all aware of cancer. I think what we really need is put our funding behind the researchers that are out there looking for the cure. We have to find a cure. We have to make it stop.
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