It was October 2018. I was 28 years old. My daughter was 3, and we were just about to celebrate my son’s second birthday. I was feeling happier and healthier than ever when I felt a lump in my left breast.
Cancer was not a thing in my family, outside an aunt’s diagnosis several years earlier. I figured it had to be a cyst or related to my cycle. No way could it be cancer.
After multiple imaging, biopsies, and doctors’ visits, I learned that I was now living with metastatic invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer.
I was shocked. My world suddenly shifted. Now my entire life revolved around doctor’s appointments, surgeries, infusions, and medications. A once-healthy girl who never even had a cavity was now entering a world of complete unknown.
I learned so much along the way.
After living with this disease for 3 years, still never knowing how much time I have left, I’ve discovered a lot about myself and my priorities. Here are five mantras I’ve learned to live by to help guide me through each day.
Do you ever have those dreams where you’re running as fast as you can, but you’re not actually going anywhere? As if you’re chasing after everything society makes you feel that you need to have — the perfect job, a killer body, a clean house, children who get along — only to feel like you’re not getting anywhere.
Have you thought about what would happen if you couldn’t run at all? After being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the thought of attaining any of these things was ripped away from me.
I’d recently closed my daycare business and passed my real estate licensing exam the night before my doctor called to tell me I had invasive ductal carcinoma. I was training for a half-marathon that was just weeks away, and my oldest had just started preschool.
Everything came to a screeching halt. All of a sudden, none of the things society told me I needed to have seemed to matter.
After being diagnosed with a terminal illness, I naturally reflected on how I truly want to live the rest of my life. I didn’t know how much time I had left. I still don’t. But that is out of our control, for all of us. I quickly learned that quite a lot of things are out of our control, yet we fixate on them and stress out over all the nonsense.
Instead of getting overwhelmed by life, I’ve learned to control what I can and let go of what I can’t. In many cases, it ends up being my own attitude, because I can’t necessarily change anyone else’s! When in doubt, I can usually lift up my spirits with a little kitchen dance party.
Do I still get stressed out? Of course. I’m a working mother of two, raising a 5- and a 6-year-old. But living with metastatic breast cancer reminds me that most day-to-day stuff that upsets me just isn’t worth it!
There’s so much more beauty in life to focus on rather than the nonsense that comes up at work or the never-ending to-do list at home. The laundry will still be there tomorrow. Cuddle on the couch with your little ones now. We all know a time will come when they won’t want to anymore.
The summer before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a close friend moved to be near her family. She’s the type of person who always goes out of her way to lift you up when you’re down or mail a random gift just because she saw it and thought of you. She asks questions. Not to be nosy, but because she wants to understand what you’re going through.
Of course, being 5 hours away wasn’t easy. She made it a point to visit as often as she could while I was going through treatment. It meant the world to me.
When she came to town, we often met with a mutual friend. We knew each other from working together in the past, but we never truly connected until after my diagnosis.
The three of us shared a love for tacos, wine, and uncontrollable laughter. It was easy. The walls were down, and we were all comfortable being ourselves. The universe kept us together for a reason. We all felt it.
It’s easy to keep people around you because they’ve always been there. But sometimes it’s OK to let new people into your life. Certain people are part of your life during specific times. There may come a time when you need to evolve and let go to make space for someone new. People change, circumstances change, and new people come into your life for a reason.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned to distance myself from people who don’t make me feel like my best self. If a person doesn’t support your dreams or decisions, or if their behaviors are toxic and hold you back, they don’t deserve you.
It’s up to you to connect with people who make you feel like your best self. If you’re spending too much of your time on people who make you feel any less, weed those people out and make room for others who do make you happy!
When I was a kid, I tried out soccer, basketball, and violin. Nothing stuck. Once I got to high school, I felt it was too late to try anything, because I was afraid I was the only one to not know what I was doing. In hindsight, I realize no one seems to know what they’re doing in life!
In college, I began running. Nothing serious, but it became a healthy habit that I actually enjoyed. I then switched to yoga when I got pregnant with my daughter. I was intimidated by the classes, again because of my own insecurities, so I stuck to informal videos in my living room. I loved the movements and how relaxed I felt afterward.
After my daughter was born, yoga at home just wasn’t as peaceful. I resorted back to running to find peace of mind and escape. I even committed to running my first half-marathon. I felt healthier and fitter than ever. It seemed I found that niche I’d been striving for my entire life.
Then, cancer. I was diagnosed with metastatic disease just weeks before my big race. To this day, one of my biggest regrets is not powering through and completing that race. It was a blow that still twists my gut, but it happened.
I wallowed in grief for some time, but I eventually knew I had to get out of it. I knew I needed a break from thinking about cancer. I needed to prove to myself that I could not let cancer defeat me again.
I found a yoga studio 20 minutes away with good reviews and finally booked my first live, in-person yoga class. What did I honestly have to lose?
When I rolled out my mat, I experienced one of the most spiritual moments of my life that will be ingrained in me forever. What began with nerves ended with tears of relief as I finally came to terms with my illness and trusted my body to lead me through the rest of my life with more strength and power than ever before.
This experience alone will forever remind me to always try something new. It reminds me to seize the opportunities when they arise and check those things off my bucket list. Life is too short for all of us. Knowing that my life may be cut short because of metastatic breast cancer motivates me to just go for it!
Just as much as it has taught me to take the risks and say ‘yes’ more, I’ve also learned to say ‘no’ a bit more, too. Finding a balance between spontaneity and solitude is extremely important. So every once in a while, it’s OK to lie low and have a day to yourself.
Living with metastatic breast cancer is like walking around with a ticking time bomb, not knowing when it’s going to go off. This often leaves me feeling guilty that I’m not experiencing enough with my children while I’m still around. (Social media FOMO doesn’t help!) But it’s also taught me to make an adventure out of anything.
I’d love to travel overseas with my kids and learn about different cultures. We all know that isn’t always easy. But you don’t need to climb Machu Picchu to have an adventure.
I’m committed to making lasting memories with my children, no matter what we’re doing. Whether we’re baking cookies or taking a walk, we can still make it fun!
Instead of having a wild bucket list of seeing the world, I’ve focused on more attainable experiences that we can enjoy now. I’ve created an ongoing short list of local things we want to do.
Every time an opportunity arises and we have time, I look back on this list to create a fun experience. Once a year, we even take a road trip and find random stops along the way to make the car ride an adventure!
There’s so much to do and see around us that we don’t need to travel far to check things off of our list. Instead of saving for a trip we may never get to take, I’ve learned to take advantage of the time that I have now with my family.
When I felt a mass in my left breast 3 years ago, I was concerned. But it didn’t feel like a typical lump as described to me in high school. I thought it was related to my cycle, so I decided to keep an eye on it.
Two weeks later, I felt a dull pain under my left armpit while cleaning my daughter’s room, only to then feel a pea-size lump as I reached under my sleeve. I immediately called my physician and scheduled an appointment for the next day.
Over the course of the next 2 weeks, I had a mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, and PET scan to determine I had stage 4 invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to my L1 spine.
Had I not listened to my body and reached out to my doctor, I may not be alive right now.
Each person’s breast cancer experience is unique. That’s why it’s important to know your body and know it well. What’s normal for one person may not be normal for you. It’s up to you to speak up when something doesn’t seem right. Sometimes it may be nothing — but do everything you can to rule out anything else.
I’m lucky enough to have a team of doctors, nurses, and support staff who forever have my back. Even when they think a symptom is no concern, they follow up with imaging without me even asking. I’ve learned that not every doctor is like this. Be sure to follow up and ask questions.
I see more and more young people get diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s important that we open up the discussion, so people know the signs to watch for to get a diagnosis as early as possible.
For a disease that’s so prominent, it’s time that we educate ourselves. This is your life and your body. It’s up to you to demand the care you know you deserve.