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A Day I Never Expected to See With Metastatic Cancer

Birthdays are a time of great celebration and reflection, especially when dealing with metastatic cancer.
This weekend I celebrated a day I never expected to see – my fortieth birthday! It has been almost three years since that awful day when I found out that I had lung cancer that had spread throughout my body. In those days, I was so very sick and weak that I couldn't imagine living for another six months, let alone entering my 40s.
I decided it was a milestone I needed to celebrate BIG, but I also wanted to give something back to the community that has supported me and quite literally kept me alive this far. I decided to have an improv show at the theatre/brewery that my husband and I co-founded, and to give all the funds to cancer research. It was an amazing night. I told the story of my cancer journey, and our incredibly talented cast of improvisers took those ideas and themes and turned them into hilarious scenes that had the audience – myself included – laughing until our sides ached.
But, as it seems to happen with every joyful occasion on my life now, part of me kept wondering if this would be the last birthday I would see. I have no delusions about the path I'm on, and I am acutely aware of how insanely lucky I have been so far. I have become intricately connected with the lung cancer community, a group of people who have kept my sane throughout this awful rollercoaster ride. Unfortunately, I have learned how quickly the tide can turn and sometimes the person you were sure would beat the odds doesn't.
It's a delicate balance, this stage 4 life.
On the day I turned 40…
…”scanxiety” crept around the edges of my mind. My three-month scans were due the day before my birthday, but I requested to have them pushed back a week so that I could enjoy my celebration with a (relatively) calm mind.
On the day I turned 40…
…a fellow stage 4 boldly embraced her future and got married. Despite the uncertainly, she took the brave step into her future and decided to live!
On the day I turned 40…
…my lung cancer community mourned as a fellow stage 4 took his last breath. Treatment after treatment failed him, and despite seeking out specialists and clinical trials, the cancer moved too fast.
Birthdays are a time for looking back and looking forward and taking stock of where you have been and where you hope to go. At times like these, it is hard not to think about the daunting five-year survival statistics for metastatic lung cancer. These numbers have recently doubled – sounds great, right? But they doubled from 1 percent to 2 percent. As I approach my third anniversary of living with this disease, I can't help but wonder if the clock is ticking. 
I try to find the balance, focusing on all the joys I have in my life now, and daring to let my mind wander into the future. I sure hope to blow out candles that read "41."

Tori Tomalia is many things: a mom, a wife, a theatre artist, a mediocre cook, a Buffy fan, a stinky cheese aficionado. She is also, unfortunately, a repeat visitor to CancerLand. Stay tuned for her continued adventures.
Facebook: facebook.com/lungcancerblogger
Twitter: twitter.com/lil_lytnin
Blog: "A Lil Lytnin' Strikes Lung Cancer" lil-lytnin.blogspot.com

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Lung Cancer CURE discussion group.
Tori Tomalia is a two-time cancer survivor currently living with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer since May of 2013. Her first cancer experience was childhood osteogenic sarcoma, for which she received chemotherapy and curative surgery, and had been cancer-free for over 20 years prior to the lung cancer diagnosis. Along with cancer, Tori juggles life as a mom of 3 small children, a wife, a theatre artist, writer and lung cancer awareness advocate.
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