By Michele MacDonald
I am a metastatic breast cancer patient with liver and spine metastases. I am also a mom and a grandmother. One day, I felt a very hard pea-sized lump right under the skin. My family physician sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. The radiologist came in and said he was concerned and brought me back the following day for a biopsy. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. I was petrified and scared. Since working at a cancer centre, I had every bad scenario going through my mind. I had a double mastectomy followed by four months of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation. It was difficult losing my hair, feeling nauseous and weak but I was determined to beat this horrible disease.
I worked in oncology for 16 years helping cancer patients access chemotherapy that is unfunded. I also co-founded Oncology Drug Access Navigators of Ontario (ODANO) to which I am so proud of. I lost my mother at the age of nine and it was incredibly difficult growing up without her. Now that I am palliative, I keep thinking about leaving my girls. I never thought I would be in this position. It turns your world upside down. My daughters are 29 and 31 and my granddaughter is 3. She gives me a reason to smile everyday. I did see them grow, finish school, get married etc., but my heart is breaking everyday at the fact that I will be leaving them. It never is easy. We spend as much quality time together as possible, although chemo has left me quite tired and fatigued. I try to look strong, and fierce. I hide my true feelings and pain so that I don’t burden my friends and loved ones. I am lost without my career and I’m passing over my director role in ODANO to focus on what I love the most in this world: being a mom and a grandmother.
My husband couldn’t deal with the diagnosis and left me while I was still undergoing treatment. Mentally I was a mess dealing with my disease and worried sick about how I was going to now support myself. Was I going to be able to return to work? Thankfully my two daughters have been by my side the entire time never complaining. I have the most amazing group of friends who come over almost daily to check on me. I’m very blessed with the support to have. After 30 years of marriage my ex and I do not speak. I have an amazing boyfriend of 5 1/2 years who I can depend on emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially. My friend group is made up of many RN’S so that is definitely helpful, and my oncologist is also a personal friend; he gives me hope but he also gives me honesty.
The cancer came back in my liver and spine in 2020. I initially went through DD-ACT, radiation and surgery, now I am on my fifth line of therapy for metastatic disease. My children are very strong independent individuals, but this has been incredibly hard for them. We went as a family to plan my funeral; that way they won’t have any worries or stress when the time comes.
It's important to advocate for yourself. Ask questions: know what is going on, what is the next step, what can you expect. Be prepared. Stay strong, stay positive but most importantly, ask for help if you need it. Don’t try and do everything if you’re not up to it. Talk to others in the same situation for moral support. I try to love life and live for today; don’t look back and ask, “what if?” Keep your chin up and fight like the badass you are!