Stage IV Breast Cancer and Still Living With Hope and Joy

by Brittany McNabb

How can hope and joy come out of stage IV breast cancer? Ask WhatNexter baridirects. Christine is an incredible example of a cancer survivor that has fought her battle against cancer with courage. To this day, her courage has turned into joy of life and hope for the future. She also spreads her hope as a mentor for other breast cancer patients. Here is her story...

Can Hope And Joy Come From Stage 4 Cancer?

How I Was Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

My cancer journey began in January of 2013. I had gotten a normal mammogram the previous July, and like many women, I figured I was good to go for another year. Because I had surgery to remove my uterus in 2011, I didn't have that monthly reminder to prompt me to do a self-exam, so I have to admit I was rather neglectful in that regard. One night when I was reading in bed, I noticed that my left breast didn't "drape" with gravity the same way the right one did. On further examination, I discovered a thickening, almost like a shelf, within the tissue - no pain, but it felt odd. I let it go a couple of weeks, thinking it might be hormonal, and then beat a path to my OB-GYN's door. The look on his face when he examined me...well, let's just say he's not a poker player. Over the next few weeks, as the testing went on, I became convinced that I had breast cancer, so when the diagnosis of locally advanced lobular breast cancer came in late February, just a few days before my 54th birthday, I really wasn't shocked.

Treatment, treatment, more treatment!

Cg Singing National Anthem

[ October 2013, the first time I sang the National Anthem for the Orlando Magic NBA team - they have a breast cancer fundraising exhibition game every year, and I was chosen to represent Florida Hospital's breast cancer patients.]

The next months passed in a whirlwind. A double mastectomy without reconstruction in April, with all 19 nodes removed testing positive, 6 rounds of chemotherapy with Cytoxan and Taxotere from June through September, 37 external beam radiation treatments in October and November. Complicating the situation was the fact that I had no healthcare coverage, and had been unemployed since June, so I struggled to pay for all of this out of pocket. I managed to do so, thanks to a great deal of charity care given to me by Florida Hospital in Altamonte Springs (God bless them!), but it ruined us financially. I completed treatment on the Monday before Thanksgiving, was put on tamoxifen, and ushered into survivorship...or so I thought.

The Reality of Recurrence

After a holiday season I will never forget, I walked into 2014 with the resolve to get a new job and start again. I had received an exciting offer and was due to start in mid-March. Knowing I would be swamped with the new position, I made appointments to see all my physicians for an interval exam early in the month. On seeing my medical oncologist, he recommended that routine labs be done, since I was about due. I felt absolutely fine, and didn't expect anything so I agreed. 

A few days later, he called me at home, and began the conversation with "Chris, I don't even know how to say this." It was the news no one wants to hear - my tumor markers were elevated. Knowing what that implied, we launched into another round of testing, including an MRI of my brain, CT scans and bone scans. Barely 5 days prior to starting my new job, I was told I had metastatic disease to the bone. This time, I was knocked off my feet. We knew the chances were high that this would happen, but we had all hoped that I would have some respite from treatment. I was immediately put on a cocktail of new meds, to get the disease under control and protect my bones. I was concerned that I could not handle the stress of this new fight AND the stress of a high-pressure job, so I called the new employers and reluctantly told them I could not come on board.

Present Day Happenings

Christine At Competition

[ Sweet Adelines Regional Competition in April 2013 two days before my double mastectomy surgery.]

Now, almost a year later, I am stable on the same meds I started with last March - recent scans showed no extension of my existing mets, and no involvement of the soft tissues. We are hopeful that this status will continue for a very long time to come. I have just recently started to have some discomfort, which we are managing, but I continue to take water aerobics at the gym at least 4 times a week, and I'm doing some fulfilling part-time work to supplement my disability income (which is mostly spent on health insurance). I continue to perform with my Sweet Adelines Chorus and Quartet, and I'm actively mentoring several MBC patients through the Cleveland Clinic's 4th Angel program. I have sung the National Anthem at 2 Orlando Magic basketball games, representing breast cancer warriors from Florida Hospital. Perhaps most importantly, I have had the honor of meeting some of the most amazing women and men on Earth - those, like me, who are not only walking this journey, but doing so with great courage, enormous faith, and incredible grace. They humble me every single day.

Hope for the Future

Not all that long ago, a diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer was a virtual death sentence. Nowadays, the 30% of all breast cancer patients who cross the bridge into Stage IV are fortunate that there are multiple treatment options available, and MBC is being managed as a chronic disease process that can be treated - sometimes for a very long time indeed. Being on this journey has profoundly changed me in many positive ways. While I know that this condition is likely to cut my life short, I'm also sure that (thanks to an excellent care team and an astounding support system along with a great deal of prayer) I will be here for a long time to come, honoring each day as a gift, and savoring each moment of joy that comes my way. God willing, I will live long enough to see a cure found, and our suffering ended for once and for all.

The Role of WhatNext in My Life

What Nexter Baridirects

As to WhatNext, I had been recommended to the website from someone in my BC support group. When I was in active treatment, I found the site very helpful in getting feedback from people who were actually going through the same thing. They definitely have a different perspective than does my care team - although they are highly skilled, and very compassionate, none of them have personally experienced a cancer journey. In turn, I've tried to help others by sharing my experiences, along with my education in healthcare.

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