Fighting For Her Life: A Story of Battling Stage IV Breast Cancer
It is odd getting to know someone by reading their journal.
Especially when that journal is about their difficult trek thru Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.
I had known her in my home town. She’s older than me. By 2 years.
We didn’t know each other well. Those years made us a world apart. Funny.
I want to introduce you to Michele.
I have been reading her posts on Facebook. She writes there about how she is doing. Often being funny or sarcastic.
I have greatly admired her pluck. Her resolve.
What is obvious. The incessant fight against her disease. In and out of hospitals. Undergoing chemo. Setbacks. Times of relief.
She and I talked the other day. She invited me to read a more personal accounting of her fight on a site dedicated to the sharing of news and personal struggles for someone battling illness.
She is still working. Some of those very work colleagues are beginning to resent her absences. Complain about how hard that makes it for them.
Michele loves what she does. A perfectionist. Has been very dedicated to her profession. She, more than anyone, hates the way cancer treatment has affected her mind.
She talks about “chemo-brain.”
So I am struggling. I am angry and frustrated… for allowing this pressure to influence my judgment. I feel very guilty about the things that have not been done as well as I am capable. I am ashamed that others saw more mistakes than they would have if I’d been there. Very vulnerable. I feel very afraid I might make a big mistake with major consequences. The little bit of superstition that still exists in me is afraid I am jinxing myself for wishing I could just stay home until this ordeal is over.
She reveals the vulnerability of losing her hair.
Most of the time, I’d put on my wig and then not think of it again until it got hot or itchy. I graduated pretty quickly to alternating with scarves – a look I had never tried before in my life. Now I have every head scarf look from Winnie Mandela to Anatevka! Some people were uncomfortable and would “look at me funny,” or avoid looking at me at all. I realized pretty quickly that their discomfort really wasn’t mine to fix… I know a lot of our discomfort is the knowledge that the same thing could happen to anyone.
Focuses on the small triumphs that do occur.
My hair is still growing slowly and unevenly, but it is coming in thick and it does cover my head. It is uneven – left side thicker than the right – but I am thankful for every strand!…..Okay, so I know what you’re thinking – “This woman is facing a study that could reveal something very serious – and she is worried about her eyes and hair?” So to YOU I say – I don’t THINK, I KNOW the song is about me!
The song she is referring to is “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon.
I don’t believe Michele is vain.
Far from it.
The complicated details of her treatment. The ambiguity of prognosis. Her family not being able to talk about, “What if…” The loneliness that creates at times. Getting tired of “being so courageous.” Dealing with others’ reactions because they can’t tolerate the fear of their own lives getting out of control.
The immense resolution in the face of all that to stay optimistic. To do whatever is in her power to not drown in her diagnosis. To treasure those who stay close to her. Who take on extra tasks because they are trying to help.
To keep who she is alive and functioning.
“The same thing could happen to anyone.” We all know it. We just want to avoid it.
It’s happening to her. And those who love her.
Michele told me she had appreciated a post I wrote recently about my Aunt Margaret. She had terminal lung cancer. People treated her like she could no longer be herself. Giving. Loving. She was dying after all.
She hated that.
So does Michele. She wants people to act normally around her. For her life and theirs not to center around her having cancer. To enjoy her present to the fullest.
I don’t pretend to know what it feels like. To be told you have a potentially terminal disease.
I have been told it changes you forever. Revamps your whole perspective on life. What is important. What isn’t.
There are things Michele is choosing to keep private. She doesn’t include those things in her writing. They are too personal. Make her too vulnerable. She holds those things in her heart.
After we said goodbye, I felt grateful. Not just for my own health and the health of my loved ones. Grateful to Michele for taking time to help me understand more.
These days, her time is very precious.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month! I want to stress the need for monies for metastatic breast cancer research! This group is often ignored in funding and needs help! Please give! Thank you so much!
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