A woman walks away from a dark place to a happy, brightly-lit space

A Thriver's Life

A thriver’s life begins in the most surreal way, it is changed by four small words “you have metastatic cancer”. This means lesions have been seen somewhere else in the body other than the primary cancer source. Some women are diagnosed “de novo” (metastatic right out of the gate) others have lived years with NED (no evidence of disease). Both women have the same first thought - “my family, how will I tell them?” and “this can’t be real”. When in fact they already knew before those four words were uttered that something was off. They listened to their bodies; they knew something was amiss.

The true reality of life with MBC

Some days are easier than others. Somedays they live and move through the day with little thought of their diagnosis. Other days they struggle to put one foot in front of the other. If you ask how they are doing, they will say “I am okay”, “I am fine”, or “I am good”. They mean it. But, behind the phrase and even a smile, there is some worry and maybe some concern. They want to go back to the day before the diagnosis or confirmation of their thoughts of what was suspected and just have a day without knowing. They want one more day of innocence.

Cancer changes you

You see this diagnosis puts life into perspective. It makes you want to make as many memories as possible. It makes you search for laughter every day. It makes you want to find a cure for a disease that takes so many daughters, sisters, mothers, cousins, friends, aunts, and grandmothers. It allows you to see and feel the smallest of things. It could be something as simple as the tiniest bird chirping, the crease in someone’s smile, the twinkle in someone’s eyes as they smile, the sound of a genuine laugh, the wind across your face or in your hair, the beauty of changing seasons, or the warmth of the touch from someone you love and treasure.

Holidays become bittersweet

Women in these circles often share the fear of “what if”, the "What if this is the last time I will do this?”, “Is this my last holiday?”. Many women do not buy new things for themselves after diagnosis. It takes months or even years for them to learn to just live in the moment. They forget to breathe sometimes. What I have seen is many women bury themselves into what they feel is their purpose with a passion for life that can not be matched. They do not want to waste a moment of time, they need to make a difference, they need to leave the world a better place. They want to be seen and heard, they long to be understood by those closest to them. These women build bonds across the miles because someone else is living under similar circumstances and understands today is not a good day. They understand the feeling of “scanxiety” and that while waiting for results a minute can feel like a lifetime. On the good days, the hours seem like minutes. The act of balancing time leaves much to be desired. They want to promote metastatic breast cancer, but also want to put it in the back of their minds and be in the moment with family.

Learn to be in the moment

If you are lucky to know one of these amazing ladies, slow down and listen. She will share perspectives of her journey that can be life-changing. You will learn to embrace the simplest of acts. You will want to find a work and home life balance. You will want to see the beauty of the world through her eyes. Yet, she just wants you to appreciate what you have and those you love. She wants you to “be in the moment”. She wants you to live in peace. She hopes you will never be close to the disease. Did you know when she was diagnosed, they give her statistics? She doesn’t give a damn about those statistics; she wants to be more than a ribbon or a number. She will give life her best effort at being normal. What is normal? I think normal is crazy with a lot of love and kindness. She needs everyone to rally and support her, some will not know-how. She understands some will need to distance themselves to protect their wellbeing, she finds a way to be okay with space. There is no manual for how to live with a stage IV diagnosis or how to support someone you love. The thing is if we really love and live life humbly, what changes after the diagnosis? She wishes someone had that answer.

Scan, treat and repeat

Things you should know if she chose to do treatment-know that the treatment is the easy part of her journey. It is the side effects (or as many thrivers like to say the “side effucks”) that take their toll. Some of them you can see, but most are locked inside of her. She will smile through the aches and pains; she will say she is ok, but somedays fear is lurking under the surface. Superheroes are human too. Many women share that each new ache and pain will take them to a dark place, but they find a way to live in the light. Rest assured; she will not leave anything left unsaid. She will be the one that will be honest even if it hurts because she wants you to know the truth. She does not want to take one word with her. Know her knew routine is “scan, treat, and repeat”. She will have to be on medications forever to enjoy her journey. No one promised it would be easy, but I bet if you asked her, she would say “Every ache and pain is a choice to be here with you and is very much worth it.”

Leaving behind a legacy

If she chooses a relationship with someone going through these same challenges, embrace these relationships as they are what keep her grounded, and help her feel understood. If you have one of these earthly angels in your circle, cherish her when you are busy making memories, take a second, and watch the admiration and love in her eyes. She will carry the simplest acts of kindness, love, and the sound of laughter with her on the hardest of her days. Her goal is to leave a legacy that spreads love and kindness. Her hope is to live a life full of joy and peace for many more years to come.

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