Overcoming the Mental Battle of Metastatic Cancer


The mental challenges of having stage 4 breast cancer are just as overwhelming as the physical ones.

When I was diagnosed with a breast cancer recurrence to my lungs, liver and bones at the ripe old age of 31, I had no idea just how many bumps and potholes lay in the road ahead. Unlike my previous early-stage cancer diagnosis, there is no light at the end of this tunnel.

The mental challenges of having stage 4 cancer are just as overwhelming as the physical ones, and I totally underestimated them.

First, there’s the uncertainty: I’m happy for today, and today I feel good. But how will I feel tomorrow? Is my current medicine keeping my cancer at bay?

Then there’s the big picture: How many more good days will I have? Is this as good as I am ever going to feel? Am I optimistic or crazy to think I can live a long and somewhat normal life?

Followed by the logistics: What drug should I take next? Will this chemo make me too drowsy to drive home? If I enroll in this trial, who is going to babysit Henry during all those extra doctor appointments?

And of course: how much time have I wasted worrying about time I may not get? Why can’t I just be happy to be here today? If I don’t have as much time as everyone else, I don’t want to waste it worrying over things I cannot change! I have always considered myself a glass half-full kind of gal, but I’m almost three years into my metastatic diagnosis, and I feel like I’m on the verge of losing the mental battle.

My family spent Thanksgiving in the Caribbean, and even there — playing with my little guy in the sand under the shade of the palm trees – I caught myself thinking about the fact I had a chemo appointment the day after we got home.

It’s bad enough that cancer may shorten my life, but it’s cruel to have a dark cloud looming over the time that I do have. With the holiday season upon us, it’s even more important to me that I clear my head enough to enjoy spending time with my family. I can’t truly enjoy watching Henry “get” the magic of Christmas for the first time if I’m too busy worrying if it will be my last.

Santa Claus is coming to my house this week, and I want to relish every moment.

So to all of you other stage 4’ers out there, I need your help. What’s your secret to turning off the little voice in your head? How do you keep cancer from ruining your good times? How do you juggle the mental challenges of a demanding treatment schedule with living a full life?

I certainly don't have all the answers.

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