I Didn’t Think I Would Be Strong Enough to Survive Cancer 20 Years Ago, But I Was so Wrong

A woman with metastatic breast cancer reflects on her pre-cancer life 20 years ago and how her perspective on the disease has shifted as she’s reached a level of acceptance and hope for the future.

The year is 2002. I am living in a small apartment located near the downtown area of my hometown. I split my time working as a freelance court reporter and as a store manager in a resale shop. I am 26. I am young and invincible. I rarely get sick. I only carry a catastrophic medical insurance policy. I am healthy. Nothing can stop me. I have my whole life ahead of me. I have hopes and dreams. I am going places. I am doing things.

So far, the only people I have encountered with cancer seem deathly ill. To me their treatments appear harsher than the disease itself and in some instances they most likely are. As I see others who are bald and suffering, I think to myself I never want to go through that. I would rather let nature take its course and be done with this life. I don’t think I could endure it all. Through my young eyes it doesn’t seem worth it.

It is now 2014. I am 38. I have found a lump in my right breast and my arm has suddenly swollen to an unbelievable size. It’s painful. I can’t ignore it. I know it’s breast cancer. I have cancer. As I am at the hospital waiting for an ultrasound, I call family and close friends.

“No,” my friends and family tell me, “It’s probably not cancer. The odds are in your favor. You are young and healthy.”

I know in my heart it’s cancer. The technician does the ultrasound without letting on what she can see on her screen. It’s not for her to say. I have a blood clot — deep vein thrombosis. I have lymphedema. I am admitted to the hospital that night and there I will stay for the next five days.

Biopsies and scans are done, along with tests to make sure my heart is strong enough to withstand chemo. I want to live. I will do what it takes to call myself a survivor. The disbelief that my life has been turned upside down turns naturally into grief. I cry until I can’t cry anymore.

I. Can. Do. This.

I have my first chemotherapy treatment inpatient on my fifth day in the hospital and am then discharged. There’s a group of women in the elevator on my way out who tell me they will pray for me. In the coming weeks I have my hair cut short to save myself from the mess of it falling out and we bury my grandfather. He died the same week I was diagnosed.

I am what I never thought I would be. I am a patient with cancer. I am bald and I am sick. I seek out others with a similar diagnosis. I read their blogs. I watch their story unfold as my own is continuing to unfold. I see them rapidly going through treatments as nothing is working to control the spread of their disease. I see them dying off one by one. I am still here. I continue to hold hope for my own tomorrows and for all those living with cancer.

I. Can. Do. This.

It’s 2022. I am 46. I have been living with incurable metastatic breast cancer for almost eight years. I am beating the odds. I am stronger than I ever thought possible. I have taken more pills and been stuck with more needles than the average person will in their lifetime. I am scarred, I am marred, and I am broken, yet I am surviving. I am at peace with my diagnosis. I have accepted the life I have been given and I try to make the best of it. It’s not easy. Nothing ever is.

I. Can. Do. This.

When faced with the possibility of dying, it’s amazing how much fight is within us. I didn’t know I had it in me. Until you are put in a situation where your life as you know it is being taken from you, you don’t know what you are capable of.

I continue to move forward holding hope for a cure. If not in my lifetime, then for the future and for those who come after me. And to the 2002 me, as challenging as it is, survival is absolutely worth it.

I. Am. Doing. This.

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