Are you sitting down?

It’s taken me 10 months to write this post. The words still echoing in my head when my doctor called that day and gave me the devastating news I had metastatic breast cancer.

I was just starting to move on with my life post cancer. I had been back to work for 2.5 years, had finished up with what I hoped would be my last cancer related surgery one year prior, and felt the thoughts of cancer quieten in my head as I neared my 5 year cancerversary.

I was getting bouts of nausea around this time last year. I had been working 12 hours a day though in the middle of a pandemic supporting our healthcare system and chaulked it up to the massive amount of stress I was under. The nausea soon passed but then I began noticing the pain in my right back flank. I told myself it was probably something I pulled (it’s amazing how we begin to dismiss our own symptoms). But when the pain kept persisting and keeping me up at night, I knew something wasn’t right.

My doctor sent me in for bloodwork which showed that my creatinine levels were a bit elevated and I naively breathed a sigh of relief thinking that maybe it was some sort of infection or something going on with my kidney. Most importantly, it was likely nothing cancer related but I made a mental note to bring it up with my oncologist at my annual check up in the next couple weeks

It was a typical appointment. We talked about the ongoing aches and pains in my hips and back from being on hormone therapy. Nothing new except this pain and nausea. He did an extensive physical exam on me and didn’t seem too concerned as my blood levels had returned back to normal by this time. It wasn’t until I returned home that my oncologist called me to let me know he was ordering an urgent bone scan and CT. He had looked at my chart and noticed my calcium levels had been slightly elevated a couple months back but again had dipped back into normal range. The thought of going in was terrifying but I think we both truly believed that everything was going to be okay. I had been doing well, I was nearly 5 years out, was taking preventative hormone therapy, and my scans had all come back clean a year prior.

Two weeks later, I got the call from my doctor with the results.

I can remember the day vividly. I was sitting at the kitchen table when she called and knew by the tone of her voice that the news wasn’t good. “Are you sitting down?” She asked. My stomach dropped and I sat there in disbelief as she told me the bone scan showed multiple lesions throughout my spine, hips, and ribs. It was extensive. I was in complete shock. I felt my body slide down onto the kitchen floor and began to shake. I kept asking myself how could this be happening and waiting for myself to wake up and this all be a bad dream.  

I called my oncologist office right away. I quickly switched to survival mode and wanted to know what I had to do. Was I going to need chemo? When could I start treatment? I was in a panic to get things started right away. My oncologist called back within 5 minutes and gave me a plan. He was going to start me on Palbociclib (Ibrance), a targeted therapy that had shown promise in hormone positive metastatic breast cancer, as well as a more aggressive hormone therapy combination of Faslodex and Zoladex. Since the cancer had spread to my bones, I would also be starting on a bisphosphonate to strengthen my bones to prevent them from fracturing.

I got off the phone and sat their in disbelief that this was all happening. I desperately wanted to wake up and it all be nothing but a bad dream. But it wasn’t. I had now become one in three women whose cancer goes on to become metastatic. I would now be on treatment the rest of my life. No ringing of the bell to signify the end of treatment. No getting to hear the words cancer free. No cure. Only hope that these new meds would buy me enough time before the next latest and greatest research came out and that I wouldn’t run out of options along the way.

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