Moving Forward With Metastatic Breast Cancer: One Woman’s Tips

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

Dionna Koval had a family history of breast cancer, so she was diligent about getting regular mammograms. But at age 42, only months after her most recent normal mammogram, severe rib pain led her to the doctor. There, she received a shocking diagnosis: metastatic breast cancer. While cancer changed Dionna’s life dramatically, her positive attitude has helped her move forward despite her uncertain future. Here are some of her top pieces of advice for others facing metastatic breast cancer.

Dionna Koval in the city.

It’s Normal to Struggle When You’re Diagnosed With MBC

When Dionna was first diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, adjusting to her new reality was extremely difficult. “You start getting depressed. You start thinking, ‘What's going to happen? Where's my life leading to?’” she says. “And to get over that hump, you need your mindset to be in a certain spot, and in that very beginning, it's hard to get to that point.” While you may feel like you’re on an emotional (and physical) roller coaster, know that there are resources to help you on your journey.

Woman reading a medical pamphlet in a waiting room.

Get Educated About Metastatic Breast Cancer

When you’re facing advanced cancer, Google can be your worst enemy. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your research. “To me, to understand what the treatment options were and to read up on it and understand the whole concept of having metastatic breast cancer is something that I needed to do. That helped me process everything,” Dionna says. While it’s important to try to avoid obsessing over statistics, getting reliable information from reputable sources is key.

Dionna Koval and her doctor.

Find a Breast Cancer Doctor You Trust

Having a health care team you trust can help you feel confident moving forward in your journey with metastatic breast cancer. Dionna found an experience oncologist she could rely on in Olwen Hahn, M.D. “The reason that Dr. Hahn is a good fit for me, is the relationship we developed, and the fact that there was something about her that I trusted,” Dionna says. Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion if you’re not completely happy with your care.

Woman typing on laptop.

Connect With Others Dealing With Metastatic Cancer

One of Dionna’s main sources of support during her cancer treatment was online support groups. For example, when Dionna’s doctor told her the first step of her treatment wouldn’t be surgery, Dionna felt unsure about her treatment plan. “What helped me a lot was online support groups for metastatic disease, and people telling me, ‘Oh, yeah, I've never had surgery. This is what I've done.’” Talking to others who had experienced similar routes of treatment brought Dionna peace of mind.

Dionna Koval hugging her mother.

Lean on Your Family and Friends

When Dionna found out she had metastatic breast cancer, she made the difficult decision to quit her job and move in with her parents. She feels extremely thankful for her parents’ support. Her mother, Norma, often accompanies Dionna to her doctor’s appointments and gives her the words of wisdom she needs in hard times. “Without [my mother’s] support, I don't think I would be here right now. She keeps me going,” Dionna says. Don’t be afraid to accept help from others.

Dionna Koval walking with her son.

Younger Teens and Kids May Not Understand Your MBC Diagnosis

Dionna’s son was only 12 when she learned she had cancer, and telling him was heart-wrenching. “In the beginning, when I first told him about the diagnosis, our relationship was hard. And it seemed like he pulled away from me.” Luckily, as Diego got older, they were able to rebuild their relationship, and today, it’s stronger than it’s ever been. A family member’s cancer diagnosis takes time to process — especially for younger kids and family members.

 group of women, men at breast cancer rally

Become a Patient Advocate for Metastatic Breast Cancer

Dionna used her experience with metastatic breast cancer to find a new passion in life: advocating for other women with breast cancer. While metastatic breast cancer advocacy serves as a way for Dionna to give back to others, it also helps her keep a healthy mindset in her own cancer journey. “Being a part of an advocacy group helps me stay positive and helps me keep going.…If I didn't do something with my time, I would go crazy. I need to stay busy and this is keeping me going and wanting something.”

Dionna looking out the window.

Know That Progress Toward an MBC Cure May Come Slowly

Whether it be in your own personal treatment or in the broader search for a cure, change is often slow but steady in the cancer world. “I think that when someone's newly diagnosed, everything is just crumbling on you,” Dionna says. “If I was to talk to somebody who just got diagnosed, [this is] what I would want them to know: Don't lose hope, don't lose faith....And it might not be working right away; it's going to take time. But I know time isn't what we all have, but as of right now change is coming slowly but surely.”

Dionna Koval smiling and hopeful in the city.

Face the Future With Positivity

With a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis comes an uncertain future that may lead you to grapple with your mortality and reassess your priorities. Take this opportunity to focus on your loved ones, your passions, and your sense of purpose. “When you have breast cancer, you survive, and you get through that day, and you get through your time with that disease any way you can,” Dionna says. “And my way is to think positive.”

To learn more about Dionna’s journey, watch her Live Bold, Live Now story.

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at