Metastatic Breast Cancer Took Everything from This Patient

CURE2020 Breast Cancer Special Issue

Stephanie Walker, who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2015, recalls how her disease has pulled the rug out from underneath her.

Breast cancer can be scary and life altering at any stage, but those with metastatic disease, which has spread to areas beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes, live a unique experience. Their perspective and decisions are shaped by the knowledge that their illness is incurable and that they’ll need treatment for the rest of their lives.

Patients facing this diagnosis often say that only others in the same situation can truly understand what they’re going through. CURE® talked with five people living with the disease, all ambassadors for Facing MBC Together, an Athenex Oncology program that includes a website and app designed to provide practical and emotional support. Here, we share an excerpt from Stephanie Walker’s journey with metastatic breast cancer.

When Walker first heard that her mammogram looked abnormal, she repeatedly hung up on the person delivering the news. “I was not being rude, but I kept thinking she had the wrong person, because I had been doing this for over 25 years and never had an abnormal mammogram,” says Walker, 61, of Tarboro, North Carolina.

After more tests, the married mother of adult children and career nurse received a call on July 9, 2015, confirming that she had breast cancer; it was determined to be metastatic two weeks later. “I rolled over and went back to sleep because I had to work that night,” recalls Walker, who has had no evidence of disease since 2016. “When I got up, I thought, ‘Man, that was a wack dream,’ until I turned my phone over and saw that I did have that conversation.”

On having cancer after working as a critical and hospice care nurse

“When I worked in pediatrics, the children had leukemias and Hodgkin’s disease and multiple brain tumors, (and the way they handled their) chemotherapy and side effects helped me through my chemo. When I wanted to feel really crappy and not do anything or mope around or cry, I would always think about those little kids who would get chemo, throw up, their hair would fall out, and all they would want me to do was to set them on their little IV pole and roll them to the playroom. I thought, ‘If those kids can do it, why can’t I?’”

On retiring because of a blood clot and ministroke

“That news of having to stop working was worse than a cancer diagnosis. It still makes me tear up. Being a hospice nurse is a calling, and I loved what I did. Cancer takes everything that you’ve ever known; it pulls the rug out from under you. You have a job on Tuesday and find out that you don’t have a job on Wednesday, and by Friday, you have no insurance. It was devastating.”

On handling financial challenges

“Cancer not only wrecks your body, it financially ruins you. My husband was retired, so he was getting Social Security and Medicare, but I had nothing. I didn’t qualify for Medicaid. We finally got food stamps, but it was hard. I was encouraged to file for permanent disability through Social Security, and that was approved in less than two weeks. But during the five months that I got nothing, every day, for eight hours a day five days a week, it was my job to find organizations that could help pay our bills. Tons came through for me, and I found organizations that other people didn’t know, so I compiled a lengthy list. What I do now is share those resources.”

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