Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my story. People's stories are so different despite the common thread of MBC. I don't even know where to start..it feels like I've experienced a decade of living in the past 11 months.
I guess I'll begin on 11/12/14, a day that changed it all. It was a Wednesday and I had just picked up my daughter Autumn from daycare.
I had received a quarterly scan the day prior. I was scanned regularly since I had breast cancer twice in the past 5 years; my most recent recurrence staged me at IIIC with a lime-sized tumor to my axilla.
I had a cough so I requested a special scan for my chest. Never did I imagine that I'd have more than that to worry about. My oncologist's nurse Amy called me to gleefully share that my tumor markers were all within a normal range. I knew that didn't mean anything. My markers had not changed despite confirmed tumors in my breast, axilla, and internal mammary node, and yet, I let her give me reassurance. That lasted all of five minutes as my oncologist himself called with far more troubling news.
"Hi Kelli," he said. I was surprised it was Dr. Rosenfeld himself. "We found breast cancer in your bones," he continued....and the world went silent. I couldn't think. I had to remind myself to breathe. "I'm going to die," I said, half question, half statement. He responded, "Well, I don't think you'll see 90." His crassness cut me. "40?" I asked. He told me they'd do their best to put me into remission.
I came home and told my husband Zac. He cried. I hate it when he cries. He's so strong -- I needed him to be strong for me. I don't recall telling my dad but within 2 days he was out in Arkansas from West Virginia, and a barrage of appointments, scans, and treatment conversations began.
I immediately changed oncologists, and we discussed the PET results. He actually showed me where the cancer was. This was the first time in 6 years that I'd actually seen my scan. Dr. Beck didn't discuss life expectancy or outcome...but he did discuss exceptional responders like his mother who lived for 15 years with MBC. I needed to hear that.
We made plans to have my ovaries removed and begin me on a clinical trial. I started the cdk4/6 inhibitor trial with Femara, but that was short-lived. After Thanksgiving, on his way back from a breast cancer conference in Houston, my new oncologist called me himself to tell me he wanted to change my medication. He had seen that Faslodex in a 500 mL dose not only improved progression free survival for estrogen receptor positive metastatic breast cancer, but also improved overall survival. That was groundbreaking!!!! Never before had simply doubling the dose of a treatment provided such amazing results. I began Faslodex immediately and have been in complete remission ever since.
But before you think it's been a cakewalk, allow me to tell you about the roller coaster I have been on. In January 2015, I became so depressed that I stopped eating and vomited daily at the thought of leaving the house. I dropped 40 pounds and eventually began abusing prescription drugs to try and numb the emotional pain. I was terrified...I thought I was dying and when that didn't happen fast enough, I decided that I just really didn't want to live. I wanted what I could never have...a life without cancer, and because I couldn't fix that, I refused to go on living.
That nearly cost me my job and my family...
In March I admitted myself to the hospital and was institutionalized for 10 days. They didn't know what to do with me...they'd never seen a 32-year-old terminal cancer patient. I received much needed counseling, medication, and a break from my smartphone that I had become unhealthily obsessed with. I also met people who were drug addicted, had attempted suicide, or were otherwise severely depressed. I was exactly like them...it didn't matter that I had a high-paying job and drove a nice car. It was an incredibly humbling experience for me.
I finally opened up in Springwoods Behavioral Health facility instead of lying to myself and the world that I was okay....I wasn't, not by a long shot. I learned that I had value whether I was terminally ill or not. See, I even stopped showering, believing I wasn't deserving of being clean. I met some incredible ladies and we began laughing at things....I hadn't laughed in months.
When I was released, I had put on 8 lbs and began to take better care of myself: I even went to Jamaica with my husband for our birthdays in April and began working full-time at the Walmart home office.
My first remission scan was on April 23rd, and the last two scans have shown continued remission. Essentially, it's no ACTIVE disease at this time, but the cancer will figure out a way to grow despite this medication and we'll have to change it up...my prayer is that it's a long time from now.
I have begun to advocate for MBC funding and awareness and began the #iamsusan campaign to create buzz on social media. I took part in the MetUp die-in Washington, D.C. And my story has been featured in many blogs and in Walmart World. I have so much to live for...and I can't look at my loving husband or beautiful little girl and know that I didn't do everything I could to be here longer with them. They are my world.
MBC doesn't have a happy ending for most, but the ending is just a small fraction of the living in between. I still firmly believe that I can write my own story and at every opportunity, I'm living my BEST life, MBC or not.
Kelli Parker was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in November 2014.