I think of myself as someone with a pretty good vocabulary, yet before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was a word I had never heard.
Breast cancer has become metastatic when the cancer has spread (in the case of breast cancer, this is usually, but not always, the bones, lungs, liver or brain). The cells are still breast cancer cells, they have just moved (via the lymph system) to another part of the body. This type of cancer is also known as “Stage Four.”
I was diagnosed with liver metastasis (or mets, for short) in November 2006. I was thirty-nine years old. Six weeks earlier, I had just finished a very aggressive course of treatment (mastectomy, six rounds of heavy-duty chemo and radiation), taken three weeks to rest and begun my gradual return to work.
I went to the doctor after what I had first thought was a pulled muscle from doing sit-ups turned into a pain in my abdomen that I could no longer ignore. I had also been feeling exhausted and a bit queasy for days but had chalked that up to the stress and excitement of returning to work. By the time I saw my GP, a little more than a week after I’d felt the first twinge, I was in agony, it looked like I had swallowed a watermelon and my skin had taken on a yellowish tinge.
On Tuesday, my GP said, “I know this is not what you want to hear but I think it’s your liver.”
On Wednesday, the GP-Oncology who works with my oncologist at the cancer centre said, “We’ll test you for hepatitis and some other things but we are worried that the cancer has spread.” (You know that things are bad when you are really hoping that you have hepatitis).
On Friday, my oncologist confirmed my worst fears and reported that the scan had revealed a liver riddled with “innumerable tumours.” When I asked my prognosis, he took my hand and said sadly, “Years. Not decades.”
I said, “But I have two beautiful children!” As if somehow that, in itself would make metastasis impossible.
I can remember very little from the next few weeks. The holidays passed in a blur, made hazy by shock, pain, terror and the drugs prescribed to help me cope with those things. And the first weeks of treatment in, December 2006, were extremely rocky.
Gradually, though, I began to feel better. The treatments for mets were not as difficult as the first six rounds of chemo I had experienced. I found that even though I was having chemo two weeks out of every three, I always felt well enough by the week end to go for a walk and play with my kids. And my first ultrasound revealed that the cancer had stabilized.
Then, in June 2007, came the news that my oncologist called “spectacular.” My CT scan revealed that there was no longer any trace of cancer in my abdomen. All that remained as evidence of my once “innumerable” tumours was the scarring.
I have now had four clean CT scans in a row and my oncologist says that he thinks I could “continue like this for a long time.” Technically, I am in remission (Stage Four cancer is assumed never to go away for good) but I continue to go for monthly treatments.
Except for the first days after chemo, I feel quite healthy and fit. My children may never remember a time when I did not have cancer (they were two and seven when I was first diagnosed) but they live with a mother who is active and very involved in their lives. My oldest son (who is now 10 years old) and I went to London last April. We have just started running together. And I can spend whole days running around with my youngest son and still have the energy to put him to bed in the evening.
I feel very hopeful. I don’t know how long I can keep the cancer at bay (my oncologist is very clear that I am “not out of the woods for good”) but I plan on being around for a long time and living very well while I am at it.
I look forward to sharing my story and experiences with you over the coming months.
You can read more of my writing on my personal blog, Not Just About Cancer.
Published On: June 04, 2008