Three (3) years ago today, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my doctor told me that two (2) to three (3) years was the median life expectancy I could expect. He did tell me that people with bone only metastasis could potentially look at a life expectancy of up to ten (10) years but that only unicorns/outliers made it that long. It was an incredibly difficult day for me and my family.
And now I’ve lived those three years since my diagnosis with MBC.
I’m at the end of the median life expectancy and it’s a weirdly uncomfortable feeling. On the one hand, I’m incredibly grateful for the time I’ve had and will have with my husband, my children, my family, my dear friends, and the amazing men and women I’ve met during the last three years. On the other hand, coming to the end of what I was told to expect is oddly terrifying and exhilarating all at once.
After three years, you’d think that I would have this cancer having thing figured out. I really don’t.
You’d also think I’d be super excited to have reached this milestone. Yet, I’m entirely ambivalent about it.
Yes, I’m incredibly blessed to have been able to reach this milestone and to be feeling as well as I am. No one is more aware of how amazing it is to have been able to live this long with a terminal illness, than I. And yet, I think survivors guilt comes into play with all the amazing men and women who are dying every day — approximately 116 men and women every single day in the United States. The more I get involved with the metastatic community, the more friends I’ve been connected with have died.
I have chosen to lean in, to connect with other cancer havers, to attend conferences, to learn, to advocate, and to immerse myself in this new world I’m living in. This has been my choice and all of these things have helped me to deal with my own diagnosis. I’m glad to have learned all I have learned; I’m far richer for connecting with all the amazing men and women over the past three years. Yes, cancer is a gigantic part of my life and it’s working for me as I deal with living with the specter of death looming over me.
And yet, the price of that immersion is loss. Losses that could be prevented. Losses that wouldn’t have happened if research into metastatic breast cancer was prioritized. Losses that shatter my heart over and over.
I read a statement when I was newly a mom that said something along the lines of: Having a child means having to live with part of your heart walking around outside your body. While getting close to another terminal patient is very different from the relationship between mother and child, this idea holds true for me. Getting close to other terminal patients does mean that parts of my heart are walking around outside my body with some precious human beings; human beings whose lives have been and will be cut drastically short.
At the end of three (3) years, I haven’t had any epiphanies; yes, my life is different and arguably better because of the choices we’ve made to avoid stress and unhealthy things, but I’m not of the opinion that cancer itself has made my life better. Cancer has irrevocably changed my life and dealing with those changes has affected every part of my life and the lives of everyone who is around me. Have those changes been for the better? Overall, I think most of the changes have been for the better, but due to the response we’ve had to my diagnosis, not because of cancer.
I have a 25%ish chance to live two more years. That’s my next goal line. And I’m going to be advocating and learning and living my best life every day until I get there.