Living with metastatic breast cancer

Linda – I am 63 years old, and for the last 6 years I have been living with metastatic breast cancer. I would like to share my story so other women can see that metastatic breast cancer can be treated and that life can go on despite this diagnosis.

I was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990 when I was just 39. At that time I was a wife, a mother, an elementary school teacher, and a doctoral student. My tumor was a hard lump the size of a pencil eraser, but it never showed up on a mammogram. Because I opted for a complete mastectomy, and no cancer cells were found in my lymph nodes, chemotherapy was not recommended. But to be extra careful, I had 4 months of chemotherapy and then had breast reconstruction. I was ready to put breast cancer behind me, and I moved on with my life. I got my school administrator certification, became an elementary-school principal, and watched both my children graduate from college. In 2005, I was 54 and attended my daughter’s wedding, which was a joyous event.

In my 50s, however, I had frequent back pain and was diagnosed with a bulging disc. Despite massage, chiropractic adjustments, scans, medical examinations, and physical therapy, the pain continued. I had no stamina and I didn’t feel well much of the time. Finally, in 2007, at 56, I began to suffer spinal fractures. I was shocked to learn that the original breast cancer had remained in my body and was now in my bones and ribs. I was sure my life was over.

Since then, I have taken hormone blocking medications, different types of infused chemotherapies, and oral chemotherapy. I have also had frequent doses of bone strengthening drugs and a course of radiation on my spinal tumors. Each type of treatment lowered my tumor marker levels and slowed the progression of the cancer for a while. When one medication stopped being effective we moved on to another, and fortunately so far the cancer has not spread beyond my bones.

I am living with metastatic breast cancer and yet I find joy in every day. I enjoy life with my husband, my children, my grandchildren, and my friends. I am able to garden, volunteer in the community, teach knitting, take short trips, and cook. I am sometimes tired, I walk with a cane, and my back is not strong enough to lift anything heavy—but I gain lots of strength from family, friends, and the other women with metastatic breast cancer whom I’ve befriended through local support groups. I consider myself blessed.

Characteristics of Linda’s breast cancer: HR+, PR-, HER2