A couple of days after my second child was born I noticed a lump in my breast.  At first we thought it was just a blocked duct as it seemed to decrease in size after I breast fed.  As the weeks went on and it didn’t go away we started to realize that it was most likely something else.  I remember sitting the the doctors office thinking this can’t be happening as he told my husband and I it was cancer.  I had just given birth to a baby girl, my life was supposed to be centered around trying to find balance between the pressures of being the mother of two small children and finding time for myself.  Not this…  Not this.  The surgeon told us the lump was stage 2, high grade, triple negative, and my lymph nodes seemed fine but they wouldn’t know until surgery if it had spread.  Everything seemed to indicate we caught this early.

A couple weeks after the surgery the pathology report came in.  Good news, the margins were clear and it had not spread to my lymphatic system. I had stage 2 a.  The surgeon referred me to the breast clinic at Princess Margaret where the medical oncologist walked me through my risks and a treatment plan.  If it all went well, the chemo would be over by Christmas.  Even better the type of cancer I had was triple negative which although hard to treat, when you get past the 5-year mark your risk for reoccurrence is very low.  The oncologist recommended we do a bone scan and a CT scan to make sure the cancer had not found a way to circumvent the lymphatic system and spread to other places through the blood stream.  Much to my relief he said that they weren’t expecting anything as its rare for cancer to spread to other organs through the blood stream.

As the time approached for my tests to come back, I started to get nervous and called PMH to enquire about the results.  My medical oncologist was on vacation so the radiation oncologist agreed to see me and go through my results.  The news was not good.  The cancer had found a way to spread to my lungs.  Suddenly I have moved from a cancer that is curable to one that is not.  I am officially stage 4.  This means that my chance for survival past five years is low, and I will be living with this disease for the rest of my life.  It changes everything.  We were devastated.

What follows is my journey through healing and coming to terms with stage-4 cancer. I hope to come to a place of acceptance and empowerment on my journey. I hope that the cancer in my lungs will stay dormant and stop growing with chemo. I want to see my children become adults. I want to grow and maintain the connections and love I have with the people around me. I want this experience to grow and change me. I want the time that I have to be balanced, full of wonder, exploration and beauty. I want to make connections with my creative side that I just haven’t had the chance to do up until now. I want to live each day to the fullest of my ability and cherish every minute that I am given.

See also my blog “Building an Incurable Cancer Club” chronicling my journey advocating for change and awareness in the young adult metastatic/advanced/incurable cancer community.

13 replies »

    • Dear Anna
      I heard you on The Current yesterday and I have been reading your blog posts ever since. You are imparting huge lessons in living to the rest of us. I am writing a book about end of life and would be grateful if you wished to connect.

      My very best wishes.

  1. Dear Anna,

    Have you heard of immunotherapy? A new approach to cancer treatment is currently in clinical trials. Some of those are looking for participants, and there have been some very promising results. It “teaches” the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Side effects are few if any. Here is some information about immunotherapy clinical trials for breast cancer: http://www.cancerresearch.org/cancer-immunotherapy/impacting-all-cancers/breast-cancer. I so much hope it helps you and forgive me if I am sending you the info you already knew.

    All the best!

  2. Hello Anna, Thank you for bravely sharing your journey. You are helping more people than you’ll ever know. I have been a nurse for 27 years, in chemo since 2001. I am now embarking on a journey to help change our death phobic culture so that young people will plan their lives and end of life, so they can live fully and die peacefully, whenever that may be. I am also reaching out to help doctors learn to have the brave conversations with their patients so as to empower them with the truth and an honest plan. I aspire to learn from people who have something to share, as you do. I hope we can connect. I wish for you and your family as much joy as possible each and every day.

    With warmest regards,

  3. hey anna -found you and your wonderful blog via twitter. I’ve been living with this stupid disease for over five years now…luckily i have a good (virtual) network of girls that have been an amazing support but i do find that metastatic disease is the hidden, scary side of breast cancer that no-one really likes to talk about or fully understands. I certainly didn’t before i developed it and it can feel isolating in a world of pink and high-fiveing survivor talk. It has changed me living with this thing but mostly for the better…i have a newfound appreciation for life and making the moments count. Also just submitted our application for a (fairly minor) redevelopment of our newly purchased home – an old 60s bungalow. We are moving just in case my mobility worsens but also cause we love the place and its retro charm and secluded garden… i really hope your dream home gets to become a reality too. Will be sure to check back in regularly and see how you are doing – you can find me at https://thekintsugigirl.wordpress.com should you ever want to say hi! x

  4. I just want to thank you for writing about your journey. You are a true inspiration. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

  5. Anna, this is an incredible story. Reading this prompted me to ask for your help. I am a volunteer with Human Health Project (HHP), a charity whose mission is to deliver a free online platform for patients and health seekers to exchange online peer-to-peer support and knowledge.

    Would you be interested in building this unique health resource with us? You would be one of our first condition/patient advocates.

    I really hope you’ll say yes, and if so, you will receive exclusive access to our website (slated to go live in September 2015). This would not require a heavy time commitment. You will have the opportunity to help shape the online users community experience and define your expertise area.

    I hope you could accept the invite and respond by June 14th. I will gladly send you more information and set up an introduction with our founder, Dr. Phil Harrington, directly, should you have any questions.

    Marica Dauphinais
    Human Health Project

  6. Hi there!

    My name is Julie Schaeffer and I’m a freelance writer for Healthline.com. I’d love to include a few brief comments from you in an article I’m currently working on. The article will offer motivating or inspiring words of wisdom to people affected by metastatic breast cancer—from people who are going through it themselves.

    If interested, please email me at julie@jshealthwriter.com and we can discuss specifics.

    Thank you for sharing your story with so many!


    Julie Schaeffer
    Freelance Writer/Editor
    Allentown, Pennsylvania

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