This is an excellent article from Living Beyond Breast Cancer about the difficulties of living with metastatic/advanced/Stage IV breast cancer. I am especially thrilled to share it with you because one of the featured women, Liz, comes to my weekly group for women with advanced breast cancer, and has been a role model and teacher for us all. Her metaphor of "Whack a Mole" (remember the kids' game where the moles come out of holes, and you bonk one with a hammer just to have another pop up?) is the best description I know of this situation. It indeed is one thing after another, hopefully with long peaceful stretches between each popping mole head.
The realities of living with advanced breast cancer, of course, are deadly serious. Learning to live on borrowed time, always with uncertainty and lurking anxiety, is an enormous challenge. I just finished writing a chapter for a textbook about this situation, and, in the research and the thinking about it, I concluded that living well requires a three-sided approach: denial, distraction, and mindfulness. We are not talking about the kind of denial that would keep you away from doctors and treatment, but, rather, a healthy denial that makes it possible to go on and enjoy life without constant distress and focus on the illness. Distraction is obvious; it is rarely helpful to have too much time to sit and ponder the realities. Mindfulness means trying hard to live in the present, paying attention to "now." One of my patients taught me the following mantra: "I am not dying today or tomorrow or next week or even next month. Everything else is too distant to worry about."
Here is the start of this terrific article and then a link. Do read it and, with me, wish Liz all affection and support.
Living With Uncertainty
BY ANNA SHAFFER
In October 2010, 57-year-old Liz, of Brookline, Mass., was deciding which direction to take her career when tests showed the cancer had returned.
Just over three years after her initial treatment ended, the cancer had spread to her liver, lungs and bones. By the end of May 2011, she found herself on an emotional roller coaster when results of a scan showed metastases to the brain.
"It's amazing how things reprioritize when you think you're going to die," she says. "First I cried, then I had so many tests that I was reeling-it was overwhelming. I had to dive in and figure out what all this meant. Once the shock went away, I started realizing that I could be gone in one year or two years or 10; nobody knows the answer."
Peg Salinger, 72, of Phoenixville, Penn., has been on multiple treatments since her diagnosis with metastatic disease over three years ago. "There are so many types of breast cancer and responses to treatment that there's not the certainty that exists with treatments for other illnesses," she says.
Managing uncertainty that often accompanies diagnosis, a new treatment or symptom can be one of the greatest challenges of living well with metastatic breast cancer. Understanding how to find equilibrium can help you preserve your emotional well-being.
Read more (click on the link to download the PDF) »