Metastatic Breast Cancer: Leaving Behind a Legacy

by Bethany Kandel Health Writer

We all want to leave a legacy - a meaningful gift or message to remind family and friends of our personality, values, and deep love for them after we've gone. A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer (MBC) may nudge you to focus on this idea in ways you haven’t before.

Stack of handwritten letters.

Make a Legacy Gift

“A legacy gift comes from the heart and is something passed on from one person to another,” explains Rebecca Hobbs-Lawrence, coordinator of the Pathways Program at The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families. “It can be as simple as a letter, words of advice, a blessing, memory, or personal gift.” Whatever it is, it can “provide a great deal of comfort and continued connection long after the death.”

Mother with cancer playing with her daughter.

Leave a Unique Memento

Leaving a legacy is personal and individual. It’s a way of leaving a piece of yourself behind for loved ones to enjoy and remember you once you are gone. Here are some ways to do it and organizations that can help.

Group of women with cancer.

Empower Yourself With Your Story

Leaving a legacy by telling your story can be empowering and give you a bit of control. That’s the idea behind a retreat for young adults under 35 living with metastatic breast cancer held on March 8, 2019. The Young Survival Coalition helps younger people with MBC decide the messages they want to leave behind for their loved ones and how to live the life they have while making a difference.

Child giving a flower.

Communicate Your Values

There are more and more organizations that help people communicate the core values and experiences that have given their life meaning. The Legacy Center in Minneapolis helps people create ethical wills, values-based mission statements, memorial letters, personal memoirs, and life stories. Also, check with your local cancer center to see if they have similar programs.

Woman speaking into a microphone.

Record Your Oral History

Everyone’s story matters. Tell yours and leave it for your own family and future generations as part of a national oral history project. StoryCorps records meaningful conversations and archives the recordings at the Library of Congress. Participate at locations around the U.S., or do it yourself with the StoryCorps app.

father and daughter reading letter

Write Letters for Life's Milestones

Another way to leave a gift, especially to children, is to write letters. These can address the big issues like finding the perfect partner, following one’s dreams, and living life with integrity. But they also can share stories, advice, and everyday bits of wisdom you as a mother want to pass along, like what age is old enough to wear makeup, or when is the right time for a first kiss. You can preserve your birth memories and maternal emotions to share with your child when the time is right.

Bride cries as she reads a letter.

Create a Memory Holder

Fill a memory box with cards, letters and little gifts for your child to open on special occasions you might miss like graduation, birthdays, or a wedding.

Mother and son creating a photo album.

Let Them See You Share

Watching you in action sharing your stories and words is a powerful way to leave a piece of yourself behind for family members, especially children. Two organizations that help those diagnosed with a life-threatening disease create legacy videos for their children are Thru My Eyes and Memories Live.

Mother baking with her sons.

Make Memorable Moments

For some people, it may feel overwhelming or too emotional to confront the reality of their illness and think about creating a legacy gift, says Hobbs-Lawrence. As an alternative, she suggests, think “of fun, engaging activities to do as a family that can provide a connection later on, such as writing down your favorite one-liners or making a compilation of favorite songs or recipes.”

family at the beach

Take a Journey Together

Take family trips while you can, to share with loved ones an experience to remember you by. Inheritance of Hope is one charity that helps young families facing the loss of a parent by sending them on all-expense-paid retreats with other families facing similar challenges.

mother and child
Bruno Nascimento

Maintain a Loving Influence Through Time

Whatever you choose to do, leaving a legacy can be a lasting comfort to your loved ones and help you remain a loving influence in their lives forever.

Bethany Kandel
Meet Our Writer
Bethany Kandel

Bethany Kandel is a New York-based journalist, health writer, and author. Her articles have appeared in dozens of national publications and websites, including The New York Times, Prevention, Good Housekeeping, and Woman’s Day. After a breast cancer diagnosis, she began writing about the subject. She created Breast Cancer Freebies, where she helps patients/survivors find free wigs, hats, and other resources to help them thrive. Find her on Twitter @cancerfreebies.