Well, it’s been a very busy week…with Met Up’s Die In on capitol hill, Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, MBC twitter chats, articles on pink washing, conversations on death and the #110 that are dying daily from MBC, debates on good, bad campaigns and organizations. While it can make your head spin, wondering where does one land in all of this, this I know, the “power” of one’s story and how they are living through and with this disease. No “ones” opinion matters on YOUR STORY. No one can tell you, that you are doing it wrong, because you aren’t. Your doing it your way and that it is all that matters. And your way, will inspire someone along in their journey or whatever they want to call it.
Our last story for this week is from Michelle Howe. Love her spirit and determination to live. I can tell from this interview that she is one that lives with her “glass half full.” I think that is a gift.
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?
I was a brand new mom. My son was born in May 2010 when I had just turned 40 years old. I felt a lump in my right breast when breastfeeding but was too overwhelmed by new motherhood to get it checked out. Finally I went in April 2011 when my son was almost a year old and got the dreaded news that I was stage 2. I went through a mastectomy, chemo and radiation and figured I could put my cancer behind me and move on with my “normal” life. I had a thriving career at Starbucks headquarters and was excited to get back to my regular world.
Less than 10 months later, while leaning over a sink I felt a lightening bolt of pain strike my lower back. When I finally could get up I figured I just did something odd to my back. But when it was still bothering me after a week, I went in for a MRI. That was when the doctor informed my husband and I that the breast cancer had metastasized to my bones and the pain was from a fractured vertebra. I had 7 spots throughout my spine.
What is your official diagnosis? Tell us about your current treatment .
IDC ER/PR+, HER2- , mets to bone and liver
How has cancer changed your life? Did you have one pivotal moment or has the journey been one of progression and growth?
The journey has definitely been one of progression and growth. It’s been 4 ½ years now and every year that goes by I get a crazy mix of more strength, more fear, more hope and more anger. It just changes daily. Cancer has given me a beautiful perspective that I don’t think many people without a terminal disease can understand. It makes me hold my family and friends close and celebrate little things. But it also brings fear that I never would have expected to feel at my age.
How do you live your best life now, thriving with a metastatic diagnosis?
Spending as much time with family and friends. I rarely let the cancer keep me in bed. I try to fill my days with fun activities, traveling regionally and planning trips. We are currently planning a trip to Spain and Portugal for next year!
What makes you most happy, and where do you find the most joy? Is this different than BC (before cancer)?
Again, my joy is so wrapped up with my beautiful 5 year old son, my amazing husband, my family and my incredible group of girl friends that will drop everything at a moments notice to help me or just give me a mental boost when I need it.
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?
I’ve luckily never had anyone say anything horrible to me, but it does kind of bother me when I always hear “But you look so GOOD!”. I appreciate the sentiment, but just because I might not be bald at the time or pale, doesn’t mean I’m not struggling from the chemo affects.
What did or do you find most helpful for those wanting to encourage or help you?
I love the sweet, small gestures. Cards in the mail, fun videos on Facebook, a lovely meal out of the blue. It means that I’m still in people’s thoughts and can make a big difference on a day I’m feeling down or scared.
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!! There is so much focus on prevention. And barely any money going towards metastatic research. We are DYING of this disease and I don’t think the pink tide ever really acknowledges our circumstances. I think its crucial to educate people on the realities of MBC.
What do you want people to know about YOU and your life living with this disease?
That I’m truly LIVING with it. I’m not a tragic creature waiting to die. But that I will die from this and it’s a disease that must be cured in my son’s lifetime.
Do you think our cure is near? Or what one scientific advancement in the treatment of MBC do you find most encouraging.
I don’t think it’s in the near future, but I hope that my son’s wife or daughter doesn’t have to ever face a future of dying of MBC.
What is one “action” point everyone could do TODAY to promote awareness of MBC.
Spread awareness. Post on social sites that 110 women die every day from MBC and we only get 2% of funding.
Do you have a favorite poem, song, quote, or work of art that you would like to share with us?
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus
Thank you Michelle, for sharing your story. May we all see the “summer” with in each of us.
Until next Monday,