Five years ago I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, which came as a complete shock after having been cancer free for 9 years. It took me almost two years to adjust to this and medical treatments I was going through. It seemed that for these 2 years everything in my life was put on hold. I wasn’t living, I was surviving. As things started to return to “normal,” I felt that although I had strong emotional support from my family, many of the fears and concerns I was experiencing could only be properly understood by people in the same situation as I was in.
I joined a support group and was fortunate to meet and become friends with Eliza Adams. Eliza introduced me to SHARE. Almost immediately I realized that there was nothing else that I could ever do that would be more helpful for others, as well as rewarding for me, than working as a volunteer at SHARE. I have been working the SHARE BC Helpline for the last two years. Started with one shift a week, later increased to two shifts. I think I am pretty good at what I do and passionate about it. It makes such a difference for me, when I make a crying and scared woman laugh at the end of the phone call, it is incredibly rewarding. These days we are getting more calls from metastatic patients and I have a special affinity to these callers. One of my proudest accomplishments of the last year was the launch of a dedicated metastatic breast cancer helpline. It is going through some growing pains but I believe it will become an important addition to our metastatic program. Over the past two years I have gotten to know many of the volunteers and staff and made good friends. They have become my second family.
As a helpline volunteer, as well as cancer patient, it is important for me to study and familiarize myself with the latest developments in the field. It feels “right” when I use my extensive experience with this disease to assist those who need support. In line with this, I have become a regular attendee at breast cancer conferences. A recent highlight was attending the December 2018 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
Cancer comes unexpectedly, and in my case with bitter irony. My first diagnosis of early stage cancer came on Valentine’s Day 2005 and my recurrence was diagnosed on Valentine’s Day 2014. Along the way my husband and I celebrated our 25th and 35th wedding anniversaries at a treatment center.
My initial and subsequent pathologies showed that I had a subtype of breast cancer referred to as “triple positive.” My cancer is fed by hormones and HER 2 receptors. Fourteen years ago this cancer subtype was considered to be very aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis. Fortunately for me, we now have targeted therapies such as Herceptin and Perjeta.
One of my lifelong dreams has been to live in NYC. Three years ago my husband and I downsized and moved from suburban NJ to Manhattan. Although my treatment can be difficult at times, I’m able to take advantage of all of the great museums and theater the city has to offer. My husband and I are also very lucky in that shortly after moving to Manhattan, we were followed by our two sons and my parents. We all live within a few blocks of each other. I guess you could say that we set off a “chain-migration.”
As I have written in a different SHARE profile, I never forget that I am living with an advanced disease, but it’s no longer on the forefront of my life.