A Tale of Two Metastases

Two young women whom I have come to know and respect have stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer. Which means that unless some medical miracle were to take place fairly soon, both of them can be pretty certain breast cancer is going to take them out before their expected life spans.

Woman A has become an activist. Her anger burns like a flame. It nourishes and sustains her. She attends conferences for breast cancer advocates, and one of her blogs focuses her fierce intelligence on pink ribbon culture, examining the financial records of large organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She has rightly pointed out that in spite of saying their mission is to find a cure, they devote less than 10 percent of their (considerable) money to research. Advocates are sometimes unfairly labeled as humorless, but she’s far from it. Many of us look forward to her wickedly funny tweets from the chemo lounge.

Woman B lives her life offline, and for the most part, refuses to acknowledge breast cancer’s existence. Her one concession is to take part in survivor events that some would consider frivolous. (On a related note, I’ve read comments from women with metastatic breast cancer who’ve been discouraged from taking part in such events or groups, as if stage IV cancer is contagious. All I can say is shame on people who would shun someone that way.) When the doctors told her most people with her diagnosis can expect to live for three years, she said, “I’m not most people.”

If you interpret this as denial, you’re missing the point. Denial is when your diseased breast keeps swelling, and instead of going to a doctor you stuff your bra with toilet paper on the other side so your family members won’t notice. (Sadly, this is a true story I heard from an oncologist. Fear is incredibly powerful.)

Yet there are similarities. Both of these women have dodged a couple of bullets during recent hospitalizations and issued mordantly funny tweets and texts. Both have bounced back to do what she does best–live, laugh, love and raise hell in her own way. Both of them use the euphemism “Good times” to describe chemotherapy (a.k.a., poison) and its attendant horrors–nausea, vomiting, hair loss (including eyebrows and eyelashes) and constipation, to name just a few. Which of these very different approaches is correct?

A: The activist.

B: The private person.

C: Both of them.

You’re probably way ahead of me on this, but the correct answer is C: They’re both right. No one can tell you how to handle the Cancer Beast, whether you’re in the cheap seats like I was or in in the ring, staring down those fangs like these valiant women are. Both of them will be my heroes for as long as I live, because they are living life to the fullest and showing the rest of us how to live, no matter where that takes us.

(To Anna and Pam, with much love)

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19 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Metastases

  1. JAAAAAACCCCCCKKKKKKSSSSSS!!!!!!! And here I was thinking that all this time I was just a mild-mannered CPA. This is so true, there is no right way to do this. As I keep saying, you just get through it the best way you know how. Loudmouth seems to work wonders for me these days. 😉

  2. I”M NOT MOST PEOPLE — neither one of them are. Excellent job bringing the real face of metastasis to metastatic cancer, Jackie. I’m glad to see this post.

    Jody

  3. Jackie,
    This is such an important message. There is no one right way to do cancer. Most of the labels drive me crazy at times. I have come to know and respect women with stage IV cancer, too, the closest to me being my mom, another being one of the women you mention in this post. Sadly, I know of too many others as well. Heroes are exactly what they are to me too. I intend to keep speaking out on behalf of all of them. Thank YOU for doing it so well. And by the way, I don’t think there are any “cheap seats” for cancer. All seats are way tooooo costly. Great post, Jackie.

  4. Yup, great post, thanks. Valiant women – a lovely image. And I agree with Nancy there – I don’t think there are any ‘cheap seats’ with this cancer business….

  5. Hats off to you Jackie for this post! It is SO true that just as in life, there is no right way to do things..we have to be true to ourselves. Oh and Nancy is absolutely right..there ARE no cheap seats for cancer!!

  6. Wonderful posting! I agree there’s no right way to cope with cancer. Each individual is, well, an individual. My good friend passed away after a four-year agony known as breast cancer. She expressed some anger, but she also was someone who enjoyed life and tried to be upbeat (and not because of the “think positive” campaigns). She just was very glad to be alive for as long as she had. During this time, she got married and bought a house.

    She was courageous and fragile, all at the same time.

    Nice posting!

  7. Thank you for speaking words that I hope will resonate strongly enough to be heard by all those who need to find their voice! I am one who will pound down doors to be heard, but I also understand that response to a cancer diagnosis is not “one size fits all.” Most importantly, we need to find our core strength to keep us strong — whatever it takes!

  8. There is no right or wrong way to “do” cancer. We’re all doing what’s best for us, and yes, it is like being in the ring with a formidable opponent. I wish the noncancer community could read this post. It might help them realize they’re in no position to decided how we should, or shouldn’t handle our fight.

    Brenda

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