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Looking Back Helps Me See The Progress I’ve Made Against Metastatic Breast Cancer

Recently I was asked to write about how my outlook on life has changed since my MBC diagnosis five years ago. The request turned out to be an unexpected gift, because I get so busy looking forward, I forget to look back to see the progress I’ve made.

After what I call the dark times (biopsy, scans, medical appointments, fear, anxiety, sadness), I began taking a medication that works to prolong my life. With no definitive information about how long the medication will work, I decided to go on a five-year plan. Looking back now, I see a pretty clear pattern that included the following:

  • Clearing up difficult relationships, which took a lot longer than I expected, and cleaning out “stuff” that meant many trips to a local thrift store.
  • Learning about death and dying, which involved reading books and volunteering for a local hospice. I learned that people do die peacefully with the appropriate support, and this gives me hope that I will be able to do the same. To make it easier for my family, I also got my personal paperwork in order.
  • Forming a support system:  a counselor who helped me through some tough issues; Cancer Support Community and Mending in the Mountains, their annual retreat for women; a Susan G. Komen conference that connected me to others with MBC; and a Zoom support group. With these pieces in place, I don’t feel so alone.
  • And finally, finding my way back to joy.

One day I decided I wanted to spend a small retirement fund that I had been saving for a rainy day. My two sons immediately suggested that I buy a new car. My first reaction was, “What a crazy idea? Why would I buy a car now?” But not long after that conversation I told my husband that I wanted a new red Subaru Outback. He was a little surprised, but supportive. So “Ruby Subie” came into our lives, and she has been with us now for many wonderful road trips. I learned from that experience that it is always wise to pay attention because you never know how seeds of hope will be planted.

I’m a nature lover and enjoy birds, wildlife, and wildflowers. We camp and we kayak in beautiful mountain lakes, where I find precious moments of peace. Sunsets, rainbows, storms – so many things now take my breath away. Moments of sadness do come at unexpected times – but I have learned that this is most likely anticipatory grief, and that is okay.

I remember friends telling me that it was morbid to focus on death and dying. But those first projects were crucial for me to be able to move into the joy of life’s moments again. My advice for anyone on this journey is to trust your own process. My five-year plan is coming to an end this month, and I’m curious to see how my next plan will unfold.

*Support for Metastatic Breast Cancer Week comes from Eli Lilly and Merck.