But Debbie has resilience, just like the rest of us. Her love knows no bounds.
The following is the bulk of what I shared last night. As a teacher, I'm quite accustomed to "winging it," so I don't have the one-liners that came to me as well. However, the heart of the message is the same: Live each day until you have no days left to live.
This setback can be something minor, like a failed test, a botched job interview or a bad hair day. (Although, for a cancer patient, any hair day is a good hair day!) However, for most, the term is used to describe a recovery from a catastrophic or traumatic event.
For someone living with metastatic breast cancer, there is no “recovery.” There may be the rare person or two -- the rare 2% that reach no evidence of disease for the rest of their lives, but for 98% of those with metastatic breast cancer, there is no recovery.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t resilience.
That doesn’t mean we don’t bounce back.
Every single day, we bounce back. Simply getting out of bed can be a victory over the previous day’s challenges.
Putting shoes on blistered feet and going for a walk is an act of resilience.
Eating three small meals instead of two and keeping them down … a triumph.
We bounce and we bounce and we bounce. Some days, our bounce is higher than other days. Some days, there is no bounce and we are flat.
But we press on.
The past 18 months have been difficult for the metastatic breast cancer support group at the Bay Area Cancer Connections. We’ve taken a huge hit.
I started attending this group in May 2013, shortly after I finished treatment for a broken vertebrae in my neck due to metastatic breast cancer. I remember who I met that night and most of them are gone.
Franca. Catherine. Shirley. Michelle. Carole. Kate. Mary Margaret. Sheila. Brigitte.
I remember Franca, a beautiful woman from Italy who pronounced liver as “leever.” As an English teacher, that always made me smile. Her infectious smile was a joy to behold, but as treatment after treatment failed her, she began to ask the question, “What’s the use? What does it all mean?” She left us in December 2013.
Catherine, a delightful young mother from France, asked how in the world could she have metastatic disease? According to all the statistics, she did everything “right,” but here she was, at age 44, dying. The last time I saw her was at Franca’s memorial service and she left us shortly afterwards.
Shirley came and went so quickly that it made our heads spin. She was only able to come to the group a few times before disease took her life, leaving behind two elementary school aged children. We barely got to know her as disease spread so quickly and she was so sick.
Michelle. Diagnosed with brain mets, she defied her six-months prognosis and lived for three years. However, as disease moved through her system, she quietly slipped away, without giving us a chance to say goodbye.
Carole. A gracious woman who didn’t come often, but who exhibited a quiet strength when she did. The last time I saw her was also at a memorial service. Devoted to her family, she protected them as much as she could from the realities of her disease until it was no longer possible to do so.
Kate. Declared free of disease for nine years, Kate was convince any new cancer would be back to the liver where she had metastases before. That wasn’t the case. Cancer exploded into her abdominal cavity, causing a multitude of problems. Kate had long ago drawn a line in the sand, declaring if she ever needed kidney dialysis, that she would stop all treatment. That day came … she stopped treatments … and she died of kidney failure due to metastatic breast cancer.
Mary Margaret. Wise Mary Margaret, whose son jokingly dubbed our group, “The Loser Ladies Club,” used our weekly meetings as her social time. She dealt with a multitude of issues, but was always giving to others and was always listening to others’ fears. She was a calm presence with a wicked sense of humor, as noted when her skull mets were referred to as “bony mets,” she started to sing, “Bony Maroni.” Look it up on Youtube and you’ll see a small picture of Mary Margaret’s spirit. Mary Margaret left us in August.
Sheila was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer four years and eight months after her primary diagnosis. Her first visit to our group was filled with fear and anger. Her cancer had changed over the years and became something that was very hard to treat and had poor response to everything. She did make a dream come true, though … she celebrated her 50th birthday in Paris, on Bastille Day, something she always wanted to do. She died six weeks later, shortly after Mary Margaret.
Brigitte was the picture of grace and if anyone ever captured the image of a renaissance woman, it was her. A world traveler, speaker of several languages, a pilot, a woman who requested that champagne and chocolate be served at her funeral … that captures Brigitte’s spirit. She’s the last of our group to leave in 2014.
The average age of these women is 52 years old. That’s how old I am now. My mother died of metastatic breast cancer at age 52, so this is a sobering age for me.
Each one of these deaths reduces the bounce of those of us who are still living. But … we keep bouncing back. We wake up each day, using our voices to not only tell our stories, but to also keep the voices of these women alive as well. While these women are gone, their resilience lives on in each of us. Nary a week goes by without one of their names being mentioned … because their names are carved on our hearts.
We are the faces of metastatic breast cancer. We are daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, friends. We are you.
We are the faces of resilience.