I realized something yesterday. I was hesitant to share my feelings, but changed my mind because this is so profound in my mental journey. I realized that I have been living life for the last couple months without the all-encompassing thought that I am dying.

On Sept. 19, 2019, I was diagnosed with Stage 3b IBC after a car accident and large traumatic hematoma to my right breast.  Although I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I never thought I was actually dying, but just knew that I had to get through the treatment. I took each treatment one day at a time. I knew I could possibly die if my cancer didn’t respond positively, but I still didn’t think it would really happen to me.  In Aug. 2020, almost a year later, I finished tri-modal treatment and started my year of Kadcyla/Herceptin/Perjeta. Life was good.  My post-surgical scans showed I was NED.  but I still had a year of immunotherapy to give me the best chance of staying NED.  In Aug. 2021, I finished that year and I was free!!!!  Mentally I left cancer in the past and joyfully moved forward.  Cancer had put my life on “pause”, but now I had pushed “play” again.

After only 6 months, on Dec. 23, 2021, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer with 3 brain tumors.  There was also cancer in my liver and in the lymph nodes of my chest wall.  Was this really happening?  Could the cancer really grow this fast?  I had only been 6 months; 6 short months that flew by as the weight of my original diagnosis had been removed.This is when I truly faced my mortality. I thought I had back in Sept. 2019, but this time it was real. I had brain tumors.  The cancer was back.  The weight was back and doubled.  I thought I was dying…..perhaps slowly, but this time, really dying.

In June 2022, two of my IBC Besties passed away. I had only met them in person once, on our own informal “IBC Sisters Retreat” to a Texas Ranch.  But we spoke over text message or facebook almost every day. Nobody knows what a cancer patient goes through, like another cancer patient.  We could talk about anything.  We could talk about our feelings on dying, who would raise our babies when we were gone, if we wanted our husbands to remarry, if dying would hurt or how “it” would happen.  And then it did happen to them.  One declined slowly and we knew it was coming.  One died quickly of covid and we didn’t know it was going to happen. I just knew I was next. It was my turn. My cancer was getting worse and it was inevitable. I was depressed.  I started to get myself ready. My besties died.  Why wouldn’t I?

My cancer got worse despite the new buzz chemotherapy that I was on.  It was supposed to cross the blood-brain barrier, but it didn’t for me.  In Aug. 2022, I had 10 brain tumors spread across all areas of my brain.  I was referred to my first palliative care appointment and began having hospice conversations with my husband.  I traveled to MD Anderson for a 2nd and 3rd opinion. If I passed away, I needed to know that I had done everything I could to stop this cancer.  At this point, I began making private, mental plans of how I wanted to live the rest of my life and what I wanted my funeral to be like. The concept of dying touched every conversation and thought I had in some way. It hovered over me like a black cloud.

Then I started Enhertu as my next line of treatment.  In Jan. 2023, those 10 brain tumors were GONE! Enhertu was working and I should be celebrating.  But I still couldn’t shake the thought of dying in the back of my mind. Maybe not right now, but sometime.  I was celebrating on the outside for my friends and family, but remaining cautiously optimistic on the inside.  I had finally found peace with the possibility of dying.  I needed to protect myself in case something changed.  I had built walls around my heart and the news that I was NED again, wasn’t enough to break down those walls.  But love and joy was!

In March 2023, I went on a bucket list Disney Cruise and Parks vacation that I booked in Aug. 2022 when death weighed so heavily on my mind. I must have left those death and dying thoughts in the crystal, blue Bahamian waters or thrown them overboard as we left the coast of Florida.  Looking back on that vacation, I don’t remember thinking about dying…..just living in the moment, laughing, having fun and focusing only on my little family. I didn’t picture this being the last time we packed our vacation suitcases.  I didn’t think about it being the last time we traveled internationally with the kids.  I didn’t worry about not being with the kids in the next Mickey and Minnie picture because I was in heaven.  Even though my mind set and those walls came down while on vacation, I didn’t actually realize it until a sunny day in May 2023 as I sat in my Mother’s Day swing and watched the kids splash in the pool.

I realized that I don’t think I’m dying anymore.  I don’t wonder if I will be there next year for Mother’s Day.  I truly make plans for the future and plan to be there for it. I know that this could all change in an instant with the next round of scans, but for now my mind is free again and it is such a good feeling. The black cloud has blown away and the sun is shining.  When I pray for you, my IBC Sisters, I pray that (no matter your current medical situation), your mind will feel free again; free from death and dying, even if only for a little while. I pray that we will all still find moments, hours, or even days to stop and focus only on our families; to live free in that moment of love and joy. 🌹

“I was actually getting Enhertu during that picture.”

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