Welcome back to another mets Monday. Today’s story comes from Jennifer Bassett. Jennifer is another young mom, dealing daily with this disease and raising a young family. Still new to her stage IV diagnosis, I am encouraged by her tenacity and resolve to live in the present moment in the face of uncertainty.
Grab a chair and a your favorite beverage and be inspired by Jennifer’s personal story.
Can you share with our readers what your life was like before you were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and how you got to the stage IV diagnosis?
Before my cancer diagnosis, my husband and I were excited to be starting our family. We had been together going on four years, happily married for two, and talked about wanting three children. I was 7 months pregnant with our first child, a boy, when I found the lump. My OBGYN dismissed my concerns, despite a family history of breast cancer, assuring me it was probably due to fluctuating hormones and most likely just a clogged milk duct. He turned me down for a mammogram, and instead offered an ultrasound.
During the ultrasound, I could see it all over the tech’s face. She left the room to consult with someone and returned to say she was “allowed” to tell me it was a solid mass, but that I’d have to speak to my doctor for more information. The hospital had recently undergone a software update and the doctor could not figure out how to pull up the ultrasound results during my visit. Once again, however, he reassured me that it wasn’t anything to be concerned about. He said he had viewed it earlier and felt very confident that I’d be fine. He actually said that it “wasn’t anything that will send you to your grave.”
At my 6 week postpartum appointment, I told him the lump hadn’t gone away and that I wanted further testing. Long story short, upon being referred to a surgeon, the pathology came back positive for breast cancer. Three months and many more tests and surgeries later, my oncologist found that the cancer had metastasized to my liver and bones, and I received my official stage IV diagnosis. My son was just about 6 months old.
What is your official diagnosis? And tell us about your current treatment.
My official diagnosis is stage IV ER + breast cancer, mets to liver and bone.
After the lump excision came back positive for breast cancer, and I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, I opted to move forward with a double mastectomy, even though this forced me to give up breast feeding when my son was just about 3 months old. I had tissue death as a result of the surgery and was right back in the OR a week later for a skin debridement. Before beginning chemo, I was adamant about preserving my eggs (at the time we all thought I was only stage II—the cancer was found in my lymph nodes but not elsewhere yet). I went through the daily injections and surgery to have my eggs harvested. Despite harvesting 13 eggs, they only froze 1 viable embryo.
I began dose dense AC chemotherapy shortly thereafter, only to end up in the ER with severe neutropenia. It was during that hospital stay that they discovered the new tumors in my liver and on my spine. Since my cancer is ER+, they insisted I move forward with surgery to remove my ovaries, which I did. I was told that in my situation, I would not be able to ever stop treatment long enough to get pregnant again anyway.
I continued with another 9 rounds of chemo and the tumors in my liver responded well (one is completely gone, the other two shrunk to half their size), but the ones in my spine caused compression fractures, requiring another surgery – kyhphoplasty—which I had once chemo was completed.
My oncologist then had me switch to hormone therapy; an aromatase inhibitor called Femara which is supposed to work well coupled with ovarian suppression for pre-menopausal women. It slammed me into menopause and causes significant joint pain.
I also received 10 rounds of radiation treatment to my spine and monthly injections of X-geva. I will have another scan at the end of this month to determine its efficacy.
How has cancer changed your life? Did you have one pivotal moment or has the journey been one of progression and growth?
First of all, I hate calling it a “journey”… I am not on a cruise to some exotic land. That metaphor has so many flaws, the biggest perhaps is that it implies a start and an end. My “journey” does not end until I die. I will be in treatment for the rest of my life, which will ultimately be cut short from this terrible disease. I will either die from my cancer or with it; I do not get to leave it behind.
As such, cancer has had a tremendous impact on my life. I am still struggling to digest everything that has happened and continues to happen to me, as I’m still in the thick of it…it hasn’t even been a full year since I got the news. When I did receive my diagnosis, it came when I was still learning what it means to be a mother. I am terrified of my son growing up without me, and yet, I know the value of cherishing every single moment with him.
I am still learning what it means to thrive with this diagnosis, and I really do strive to simply take it one day at a time. If I think too far into the future, I mourn what I know I cannot have. I still have hope, but I am also a realist. “Living my best life” for me means trying to find/create purpose and to contribute to something that is greater than myself.
What makes you most happy, and where do you find the most joy?
I find the most joy in my son, who will be turning a year old next month. He is a daily reminder of the importance of living in the present. We have been through a lot together already, but he is blissfully unaware. He allows me (or requires me) to put cancer on the backburner and just be mommy first and foremost, which is all I’ve ever wanted to be. His laughter is my favorite sound.
People mean well, but often they don’t know what to say, so they say the WRONG thing. What is the worst thing someone has said to you?
“Save the ta tas!” somehow became a rally cry at a fundraiser being held in my honor. I hate the awareness campaigns that sexualize and trivialize breast cancer, and I’ve never hated this particular platitude more than when it was shouted in my face, post mastectomy. Our pink ribbon culture has set a dangerous precedent that diminishes the individual to nothing more than a pair of tits. People buy all kinds of garbage because it’s adorned with a pink ribbon, thinking that somehow their dollars are going toward a cure. I’m disheartened and disgusted at the ignorance of awareness campaigns that do little if anything to actually save lives.
What did or do you find most helpful for those wanting to encourage or help you?
I greatly appreciated the people who dropped food or groceries off at the door so I did not feel obligated to entertain. I also appreciated help with cleaning/laundry and walking the dog. When I was feeling up to it, I especially enjoyed invitations to get out… between having a baby and having cancer, I spent a lot of time on the couch or in bed; it was very nice to go out to eat or to a movie!
Do you feel that those of us living with metastatic disease are overlooked by the pink tide of awareness for early stage cancer in October? How would you change that?
Absolutely. Pink washing is just another way for big business to capitalize on public ignorance. Breast Cancer “awareness” has become a billion dollar industry despite research showing that such campaigns are ineffective at saving lives. More money needs to be put into research of late stage disease to find the CURE. Awareness does nothing to stop recurrence, metastasis, or death.
I want people to know that early detection does not necessarily save lives. I am 30 years old… everyone I talk to assumes that since I am young it must’ve been caught early and that I will of course “beat” cancer. I went from a stage II diagnosis to stage IV in a span of three months. My cancer is very aggressive. Even if my OBGYN had taken my concerns more seriously early on, I would probably still be in the same boat today. I was in active treatment and the cancer continued to spread. This is not something you just fight really hard and walk away from. Thousands of us die every day, and it isn’t because we aren’t fighting hard enough or that we did anything wrong… it’s because breast cancer is a deadly disease. We need to stop hiding that behind a pretty pink ribbon.
What one scientific advancement in the treatment of MBC do you find most encouraging?
I think immunotherapy looks promising for metastatic cancers.
What is one “action” point everyone could do TODAY to promote awareness of MBC.
Do you have a favorite poem, song, quote, or work of art that you would like to share with us?
Music has been instrumental (pun intended!) at getting me through. Here are a few of the songs on my “healing” playlist:
This song came on before every major surgery; I realize radio is pretty predictable, but I do not believe in coincidences. To me, it’s about letting go of the physical — literally – and seeking a more spiritual existence.
Hold Back the River by James Bay
Ship to Wreck by Florence & The Machine
Electric Love by Borns
Could Have Been Me by The Struts
Fields of Gold cover by Eva Cassidy
Everybody Hurts cover by Jasmine Thompson
-Photograph by Ed Sheeran
Thank you Jennifer for sharing your story.
If you would like to contribute to our #voicesofMBC campaign and tell your story. Please contact me (Lesley) using the form below. I will get back to you with all the details.
Until next week,