Meet Cathy Spencer. Her story matters.
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?
Wow I have to say I was living a comfortable life. I loved downhill skiing, theatre, camping, cruising, and travel. I am married to my amazing husband Stephen. My daughter Mackenzie was 12, and my son Noel was 9 when I was diagnosed. I was working full time and I had never been sick. I found a lump on my collar bone and a small spot under my left arm pit and it was growing. I failed my first Mammogram.
What is your official diagnosis? Tell us about your current treatment .
On September 19th 2007 I am diagnosed with Stage 2b breast cancer and I am HER2 positive. I thought this must be a mistake. How can I feel so healthy and be so sick? I started 8 rounds of Chemo therapy right away. My 7th treatment I’m experiencing weird symptoms double vision, confusion loss of memory. I was diagnosed with a 2.5 cm Brain Met I am in disbelief. How can breast cancer spread to the brain? I am now Metastatic. I am so confused and afraid that my life is over. My treatment is stopped and surgery is recommended. A Craniotomy removes the tumor and I need to complete 10 rounds of whole brain radiation and 25 rounds for the breast.
I was terrified of the surgery, so many risk. What would happen to my family? I am too young to die.
When I woke up from the brain surgery March 17th 2008 I was told to go and live my life. My prayers have been answered. I never expected to feel so good after a 5 hour surgery. My first words when I woke up where I am going to London and Paris. In 2009 I was strong enough to go.
I joined a Metastatic support group for breast cancer. In this group many have progression but I am the only one that has Brain Mets. We meet weekly and I make this group my priority. The support is good for me. I do not have to pretend that I am okay and I don’t have to make excuses for my cancer. I feel whole and I want to share, laugh, and cry all at the same time.
September 2013 I attended a CBCN Survivor Advocacy Training course. I never thought that patients needed to advocate for clinical trials, treatment, and patient care across Canada and around the world. After that conference I have found my voice. I am not the same girl any more. The next few months I started sharing my story. I was asked to speak to survivors, new doctors, and nurses giving them the patient perspective. I thought this was a huge success. Maybe sharing my story means something. I have attend many Metastatic conferences in the USA.
What makes you most happy, and where do you find the most joy? Is this different than BC (before cancer)?
Cancer has changed me, but I see life more clearly. I still have a strong faith and I am not walking alone. Each day is a new day. My family and friends have provided me with love and support that I need. I’m trying to stop living life I planned and start living the life that is waiting for me.
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 update my friends and family with email which puts me out there to receive dreaded emails like “An Angel came to be last night and asked me to pick 10 friends that would love a special prayer and I picked you! Send this to ten of your special friends to receive the blessing that this Angel has offered you” OMG just stop the madness people, I have had enough bad luck. I don’t need more.
What did or do you find most helpful for those wanting to encourage or help you?
What I really want is to live a normal life as much as possible with my friends and family. If I need to talk about what’s going on inside my pretty little head give me a moment. Let me shed my tears then let’s break out the wine and celebrate our life. I’ve come so far and I have a long way still to go. My husband has been my rock and I am so grateful that I have him.
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?
In our pink survivor parade we hold up signs 0-1 years 3-5 years … all I wanted was a sign that says “Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer” I find this so frustrating. Maybe I need my own parade.
What do you want people to know about YOU and your life living with this disease?
I have spent a lot time making sure that everyone is okay with my cancer. I try to make it look easy. I don’t want to be an inspiration because I will fail, I am only human. What really matters to me is I am living for my family I want time to watch my children grow, retire and travel more with my husband. Even though you see me on my good days and if look good I am still very sick.
Do you think our cure is near? Or what one scientific advancement in the treatment of MBC do you find most encouraging.
I am not sure if the cure is close. Having new clinical trials and the treatment can give us more hope. Herceptin has saved my life. I have with over 140 cycles of Herceptin in the last 8 years. Not to mention the amount of Pet scans, Brain MRI’s, CT scans, Muga Scans and Blood work. I am alive but I am a piece of work.
Each one of us has a story to tell. Don’t let Metastatic Breast Cancer silence you. Use your voice and feel good at how far you have come. If you’re reading this you can write your story.
Do you have a favorite poem, song, quote, or work of art that you would like to share with us.
Thank you Cathy for sharing your story.