Under Pressure

I know I don’t update this blog with any regularity. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. My problem is that I feel like I am holding back so much, and if I open up the floodgate just a little, it’ll be mass flooding everywhere. I’m talking apocalyptic level damage. How do I even begin to vent and let it all out without taking everyone down with me?

I feel like I am low-key panicking pretty much all the time and can’t remember the last time I really felt relaxed and loosey goosey. Granted, I have never been really good at relaxing anyway. I have cried more in this past year than I probably did in the last 5 years. Man, I miss when I used to feel dead inside. All these emotions just bubbling up inside of me – gross. Make it stop.

Work has been a little crazy lately and we have a shorter timeframe to get everything done. Part of the stress I feel isn’t the result of any pressure that my boss or boss’s boss have put on me. Quite the opposite – my managers have made it very clear that they will work with me and allow me to take breaks whenever I need to take one.

That’s just it – I feel guilty. The things I wanted to do in addition to my job so that I can be better at my job – pursuing my CFE, data analytics badge, etc., – I just don’t have the energy to that. I pick up a new data analytics skill here and there, but once 5 o’clock rolls around, my brain just goes “Derrrrrrrrrpppppp.” I put in all the energy and effort I can to my job but I don’t have anything left to try anything more.

My cancer is still stable, and I’m due for my next round of scans next month. This damn disease never leaves the back of my mind. How can it? This is a damn elephant in the room. I get blood work done every month, and I have to go in every month for my Xgeva shot. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about this disease and wonder how long do I have before I have progression?

My stomach hurts pretty much all the time, and my teeth have been causing me hot and cold sensitivity pain. Guess what is causing both of these issues – oh yeah, STRESS. Apparently, I have been grinding my teeth when I’m asleep, and the specialist told me. that’s caused by stress. Gee, what could I ever be stressed about? Whenever I hear about my friends with the same disease as me, but they have great family support to help them out with cooking or going to appointments with them, I feel slightly jealous.

I’m not close to my family, both literally and figuratively. Seriously – what’s it like being close to your family? If I ask my own family that question, my question would probably not be well received. Haha. Well, at least this topic ensures that I’ll always have something to talk to my therapist about. In all seriousness, I don’t have the energy anymore to fight with them anymore and feel like I matter or important to them. Why would anything change now just because I’m sick? They have always made me feel like just a spare and insignificant. My own brother never checked in with me since my stage 4 diagnosis.

I doubt any of them will even read this because that would show concern into my well being. I AM TIRED OF ONE-WAY RELATIONSHIPS. My phone also receives text messages and phone calls. If history is rewritten after I’m gone (“Oh her cancer was so hard on us”), I will haunt whoever I have to. Not a nice haunting either – I’m talking poltergeist level shit. You’ve been warned. (See what I mean about the floodgates?)

I’m trying to manage side effects from treatment, working full time, emotional stress, and this constant stream of depression that my cancer has caused. It’s a lot. Throw on top the pandemic, and good lord. I don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with much more. I had to step away from Facebook for the time being because if I saw one more person share an anti-vax post, ugh. Just nuke all my social media.

I’m tired y’all. I’m just fucking tired. I need a break of some kind. Something. If anyone wants to drop off soups and casseroles on my front porch, I would be much obliged. My stomach would thank you, as well.

Self-Care

One of the biggest physical issues I have been dealing with since my diagnosis would have to be my stomach. I go through periods where my stomach just outright beats the snot out of me. I’ve cried and been in physical distress, all while trying to keep up the appearance that everything is a-okay.

My stomach has always acted up (or more accurately, acted against me) when I’m stressed. What can be more stressful than stage 4 cancer? (Spoiler: Not a lot.) Juggling working full-time, a social life, and oh yeah, cancer treatment… yeah, it’s stressful.

I’ve been doing whatever I can to reduce my stress and not get myself worked up. First, I hired someone to mow my yard and pick up poop. Good lord, this has to be one of the smartest decisions I have made recently. Every penny spent paying this man to take care of my yard is worth it. Taking that off my plate has been huge for me and my stress level. I am currently looking for someone or a company to come and clean my house on a monthly basis. That’s the other big load that I need to take off my shoulders. Finding a cleaning company is high on my to-do list.

Running has definitely been a big part of my stress relief. The physical exertion is just fantastic for my soul, and I feel stronger overall. I don’t know if it will, but of course I hope this helps with my overall survival rate. Maybe I will be an outlier, a cancer unicorn? I keep running because I can, and during these runs, I can still forget that I’m stage 4, even if it’s just for 30 minutes or an hour.

My other stress relief as of late has been reading, specifically romance novels. I used to be judgmental about romance novels, and I honestly think I was just closed off for whatever hang ups I had. Not anymore, friends. Romance, smut, I do not care. I am about that romance novel life, and I give zero shits if anyone judges me. Life is definitely short. Do what makes you happy.

One of the big stressors lately for me has been certain family relationships. It has been strained for quite some time, and my illness just put a big ole magnifying glass on the trouble that’s been there for years. I had to cut off a family member from my life because they were causing me emotional distress. I am only on the defensive, and if I object to any hate or vitriol my way, I’m the one overreacting. I went nuclear and just did a straight up block, but this didn’t come out of nowhere. This has been happening for the last couple of years. I didn’t want to do this, but I cannot keep having the same fight and conversation. Over and over and over and over again.

I would like to think me just bowing out of this negative back and forth will cause my family member to do some self-reflection. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will happen. They’re going to do what they think is best, and I’m going to do the same. I am going to protect my mental health and in turn, physical health, at all costs. I’m not going to fight anymore, and I am especially not extending myself to anyone (friend or family) who hasn’t reached out to me once since my diagnosis to see how I am.

One thing cancer has taught me – you have to look out for yourself. That’s what I’m going to keep doing. Nobody is entitled to my time or energy, even if you are related to me. I don’t want to keep fighting but the other person has no desire to change, so peace out. I only have room for one cancer in my life.

My Birthday Fundraiser

Back in February, I created a fundraiser for Metavivor for my 41st birthday, which falls at the end of this month. I know many people get weird and emotional about turning 40. Honestly, I didn’t mind turning 40 because I lived quite a bit of life in my 30s: early stage cancer, switching jobs twice, kicking cheating boyfriend out of my house… and so on. I had planned a 40th birthday party and was looking forward to my 40s (man, I’m a dumb bitch haha).

My 41st birthday has been the one I’ve been feeling all my emotions about – this is the age my mom never reached. She died when I was 7, and she died 2 months shy of her 41st birthday. On top of this monumental birthday, this is going to be my first birthday since being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It’s basically like I’m getting emotionally gut punched, and while I’m down on the ground, moaning and groaning, I’m getting emotionally stomped on the head.

It’s a lot.

My mother has been my Health Issue roadmap all this time. If she had it, then by George, I had it, too. This is why I’ve been convinced for so long that I was going to get metastatic breast cancer, too. I’ve come to the end of my Health Issue roadmap, and now it’s like, “Oh shit. What’s next?” This is unknown territory for me.

This fundraiser is my way of not wallowing and be productive. Not only is this fundraiser my way of honoring my mom, this is me wanting to live. I don’t want to just live – I want to live well. Research is the way.

https://donate.metavivor.org/fundraiser/3139488

I set my fundraising goal as $4,100, and I honestly thought this was a lofty goal. That’s why I gave myself two months to fundraise. Well, because I talked to management at my work before I created it and they all seriously rallied behind me, I hit my fundraising goal last month!!!

As of right now, I have raised $4,300 for Metavivor, and I have three more weeks left to fundraise. Can I hit $5,000? That’d be so cool.

Run, Lara… RUN

It’s no secret that I’ve struggled since my cancer recurrence diagnosis. Basically, this diagnosis came into my life like a tornado, and I’ve been struggling to pick up the pieces and figure out what next. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by my circumstances that it feels like I can’t breathe. I try not to show the soul-crushing fear that comes over me, and whenever someone asks me how I am, “Doing okay, you?”

I needed to find a way to deal with my stress, and running used to be a be one of the ways I dealt with my stress and anxiety. Without running, I have felt lost and agitated. I do have other hobbies that don’t require a lot of physical activity, but running allowed me to get out my every-day nervous energy.

With the blessing of my oncologist, I started running again since the weather got decent. A fellow runner friend wrote up a 12 week couch-to-5K program for me. That’s right – I am starting over and running again! I’m a believer in the run/walk method, and I am going to stick with this method until I cannot run anymore. Run/walk is much kinder to your body, and I need to be as kind as I can to my body.

It’s been five weeks, and let me tell you, I can definitely tell a marked improvement in my overall mood. I am definitely less agitated. In fact, my therapist is so happy with my progress that she’s seeing me every other week, as opposed to weekly appointments. Waaaaat. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I am not cured of my terminal illness blues, and this depression and anxiety is sticking around. I’m just coping with the shit hand I’ve been dealt a little better.

Running is meditation for me. It’s one of the few times where my brain just shuts off, and I just focus on what my body is doing. I don’t think about cancer. I am focused on my breathing, my surroundings, and how I’m feeling. When I go run downtown, I am enjoying the view of the river or the many Pittsburgh bridges. I feel peace, which I know is an odd thing to say. If you ever saw me run, I don’t look like someone who’s at peace haha. Whenever I see my racing photos, I look either in pain or confused. I do feel peace.

I don’t focus on time anymore when I run. I just want to finish. That’s it. If I am able to do another half marathon and it takes me 3 1/2 hours to finish it, so be it. All I want to do is finish, and more importantly, I want to finish pain free. I never want to voluntarily give myself pain and discomfort when cancer is more than capable of doing that itself, thank you very much. I’m going to be smart about this.

I am liking that my legs are starting to feel strong again to me, and I’m sure my oncologist is going to be a happy camper tomorrow when I tell him my progress. Part of me does want to be a strong terminal cancer patient. However, I honestly don’t know how long I will be able to keep running. This isn’t easy for me. I’m tired pretty much all the time, and my joints feel achey as all hell. I take medication that sucks all the estrogen out of my body, so my bones are becoming old lady bones.

I might only be able to run for 6 more months or maybe a couple of years. I’m going to give thanks for every run and celebrate the physical strength I still have left in me.

Mental Health, Metastatic Breast Cancer & a Mother-Freaking Pandemic

A question I get asked a lot, and understandably so, has been: “How are you doing?” I typically respond, “Hanging in there.” It’s an answer that tells you absolutely nothing, but conveys the sentiment that hey, I am still here. I am always touched when a friend or family member checks in on me, and it warms my icy cold heart that anyone has been thinking about me. I’ll let you in on a secret though: I often give the non answer of “hanging in there” because I honestly don’t know how to answer this question. I really don’t. Does anyone really want to know the real answer?

Most of the time, my stress level is probably at a 7 or an 8, and it’s been that way since the beginning of October 2020. I am going to do my best to try and explain what this feels like. To me, sometimes it feels like there’s a killer clown with a 10-inch serrated knife in the room with me. This clown looks like it crawled out from the depths of hell, and it has got murder on its mind. The killer clown has soulless, jet-black eyes, and yellowish fangs. It has a devilish smile, which enjoys mouthing the words, “I am going to kill you.”

The kicker – nobody else can see this killer clown.

“Can’t you see it, too?” I scream at others. They nod their head and shrug at me. Nope, it’s only me. So, I have to pretend to be normal and do my best to not pay attention to the killer clown, but sometimes I slip, look back and see it once again mouthing the words “I am going to kill you,” and then freak out accordingly. I still have to go about my regular day and pretend like I don’t see this clown but I am always aware that it is there..

Living alone during a pandemic was challenging and tough enough, as it was. I often felt lonely and isolated. Like so many, I felt cutoff from my friends and my running community. The big difference, though, was that I could still run and work out. Now, I am lucky if I get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on the treadmill. I keep gaining weight, and my body is changing so much on me. Soon, it’s going to be even more foreign to me, and I mourn my pre-diagnosis body with all my heart and what I used to be able to do.

I am lucky that I enjoy my job, and really like the people I work with and for. My job allows me to be creative, and I always try to learn something new every day. My job allows me to ignore the killer clown for 40 hours a week, and pretend to be normal, when I feel like anything but. I want to keep working as long as I physically can because it really helps my mental health, too. There are stretches of time where I actually forget I have metastatic breast cancer. Oh my, I am actually tearing up thinking about this. I desperately need these stretches of time where I can forget and feel like Lara again.

I truly believe my mental health will significantly improve when the weather gets warmer, and I can leave my house for physical exercise. I miss being on the trails so much. Don’t get me wrong – I will not be running on the trails ever again (well, unless something is chasing me). During my last brain MRI, I tried to go to my happy place, and I found myself transported back to the trails in North Park. I was climbing up the massive elevation on the purple trail, and then I was trotting along the green trail where I typically spot deer.

Even though I’m exhausted pretty much most of the time and my counts are currently in the toilet, I will hike those trails again. I’ll just have my boyfriend along with me (making sure I don’t trip and fall).

“Do you want to be defined by this?”

This question was asked of me lately, and I have been really giving this question a lot of thought. Do I want to be defined by my illness, by cancer? More importantly, do I… have a say in this matter?

Cancer has been a part of my life since I was 2 or 3 years old, whenever it was my mom first got sick. Cancer for sure set off a crater in my life when she died when I was only 7 years old. Thanks to cancer, I learned at a very young age that life was not fair, and the people you love will leave you, even though they don’t want to.

I always felt weird and out of place going through school, like this major life event marked me as different, a weirdo. I was the girl with the dead mom. Navigating adolescence without your mother is difficult, and I went through many “you’re becoming a woman” milestones with my dad.

Then, cancer once again becomes a part of my life when I was 25 when I started getting yearly mammograms. Five years later, I am told I have stage 1 breast cancer. Now, at the age of 40, I am living with stage 4 breast cancer. This freaking disease has been a part of my life for pretty much the entire life, and it’s going to kill me just like my mom. So yes, I have been very much defined by breast cancer.

Yeah, I have been defined by my cancer, and I plan on fundraising for metastatic breast cancer research as much as I can before I die. However, I will always be more than my disease. I was a runner, and I take bomb ass pictures. I am accident prone, and I love memes. I like my job, and I really like and care for my coworkers.

When the time comes I find out once and for all if heaven is real, I know my loved ones will be talking about funny stories about me, and not giving cancer a second thought.

Good-bye 2020

Like everyone else in this whole wide world, 2020 was a giant dumpster fire of bad news, cancelled plans, and overwhelming feelings of isolation. A couple of weeks ago, I underwent my first ever brain MRI that my oncologist ordered. I had been experiencing more headaches than normal, and I had episodes of complete forgetfulness which worried me.

First of all, MRIs in general are just anxiety-inducing procedures to begin with. During my MRI, I did not have any option to listen to music. As a result, I spent the 35 minutes in the MRI tube trying not to think about the very enclosed space and cage around my face. I did try to go to my happy place, but the sounds of VMMMM VMMM DUM DUM WHIRRRRR, or a combination thereabouts, prevented me from going to my happy place.

Also, similar to that gut feeling I had when I pushed my oncologist to order the CT and bone scan, I honestly felt like something was there. Guess what? I was right. (Yay me.)

I have a 9 mm (approximately a 1/3 inch) tumor in the back of my brain. When my oncologist told me that news, I just broke down. When I thought I was just dealing with a met to my sternum, it was one thing. Oligometastatic, if you’re going to have stage 4 breast cancer, is the diagnosis you want because the good prognosis and life expectancy odds are in your favor.

However, the idea that I could be also dealing with brain mets not only pulled the rug from underneath me, it beat the shit out of me with a bat. I mean, come the fuck on. This is a lot for anyone to deal with. I knew that even if the brain tumor turned out to be benign, the fact that I had metastatic breast cancer, a brain tumor, plus all the bullshit that comes with Cowden’s Syndrome, felt downright unbearable.

ESPECIALLY IN A FREAKING PANDEMIC. It’s not like I can meet up with my friends for support, or travel down to my parents house for Christmas like I had really wanted to. I spent Christmas by myself (well, my dogs are with me). As a result, I lost it. I cried a lot, and both my anxiety and depression took the wheel, while I stayed in the backseat curled up in a fetal position. I wrote in a notebook how I really and truly don’t want to be anyone’s idea of inspiration or strength. Let me be weak and cry, and for the love of pete, do not put me on any pedestal. I hate that shit.

I’m human, and I’m doing the best that I can. I’m not going to put on a brave face to make anyone feel comfortable.

Finally, after consultations with a neurosurgeon and my radiation oncologist, my team of doctors all agreed that this tumor looked like a typical meningioma, and where it was located in my brain further suggested that it’s a benign tumor. However, since this was the first ever MRI of my brain, the neurologist can’t say with 99.9 percent certainty without a second scan. If this tumor doesn’t appear to have grown in between scans, she can say with almost complete certainty that this is benign and let’s just keep watching it.

If I didn’t have Cowden’s Syndrome, she would have re-scanned me in 3 months and then 6 months, and then so on. Since I have stage 4 breast cancer, they are going to scan me in 4 weeks or so (pending insurance approval), and then every 3 months for a period of time. We will only talk surgery if it looks like it’s growing or I’m symptomatic. I am a-okay with this plan because I have zero desire to have brain surgery unless it’s necessary.

Oh look, there have been research into the frequency of meningiomas in patients with Cowden’s Syndrome: Hidden association of Cowden syndrome, PTEN mutation and meningioma frequency (source). Fun, super duper fun.

I’m not surprised that 2020 ended with one last punch to my emotional well being. This year, I was told that my breast cancer is now stage 4. I missed out on my own planned 40th birthday party, my beloved niece’s high school graduation, and a trip to Maine with my best friend. I spent every holiday at home by myself. Why not add a brain tumor to the list?

In an effort to put a horrible year behind me, I will do my best to recap and focus on the good things that happened (or, in my case, the not so terrible news):

  • My brain tumor is certainly benign.
  • My cancer appears to be only in my sternum still, not widespread.
  • I still have my job, and in fact, I got a promotion!
  • Management at work has been so wonderful and supportive to me. My boss, and boss’s boss, have been the epitome of caring toward me. I will honestly work for them as long as I can.
  • Countless friends have helped me and showered me with love in 2020. They sent generous gifts, bought Huffman rules clothes, and sent me money. Because of my loved ones’ generosity, I have been able to save more money and prepare myself for the rainy day that is coming, and it is coming fast.
  • Last, and certainly not least, my boyfriend has stood by my side, and he makes me feel like the luckiest woman alive. (Never thought you’d hear that coming from someone who definitely did not win the genetic lotter, huh?)

Yeah, 2020 sucked royally, and my life will never be as it was. It’s okay. If my only win this year was that I survived, I’ll take it.

Some Type of Normal

For the first time in almost two months, I went for a run today. Well, it was more like a “jog” than a run based on my effort and time. Still, it does not matter. I put on my running shoes, and I moved this body of mine 3 miles around the Northside of Pittsburgh. I decided to stay in a relatively flat area because I am nowhere in the shape to conquer hills.

I went down the path on River Ave and just focused as much as I could on my form and breathing. When I run, I can clear my head of all my worries and anxiety. This run was different because I wanted to be even in more touch with my form, my breathing, and my general sense of being.

With each step, I made sure to step as light-footed as possible. I don’t want to be hard on my knees, ankles and shins, especially since Aromatase Inhibitors are brutal on bones. By the time I reached around Heinz Field, I began feeling pain in my ankle. Never in my life have I ever had problems with my ankles. If I had to guess, my AI was the cause of that ankle pain.

Since my hysterectomy, I have only managed to walk 2 miles at the most. I ran 3 miles today! My pace was 13:40, which is 2 minutes slower than my pre-MBC time. Honestly, now that I am dealing with metastatic breast cancer, every completed run is a win. Besides this blog post, there will be no more comparison to who I was as a runner before MBC , because that Lara is gone and she ain’t coming back. I won’t waste time mourning something I can no longer change if only I trained hard enough.

I don’t have the time.

This is a new normal, and I’m going to adapt to it. I used to to say I took up running because I wanted to see what my body can accomplish after cancer showed me how my body failed me. I was wrong. I was so wrong. My body didn’t fail back then. It did what it does – it formed cysts and tumors. I see it clearly now, and it came to me during my run today

My body, this ever-involving flawed vessel that carries me around, is amazing and capable of so much. It endured the violent onslaught of early stage cancer treatment. It… I have ran thousands of miles, finishing races that most people don’t even try or can do. My body has been beaten up, both by illness and by my own making, but I endure. I have fucking endurance.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think I can beat stage 4 cancer, and this is not where I’m going with this. My goal is to endure for as long as I can, and it is going to be accomplished by one, slow run at a time. I’m going to keep moving and stay upright for as long as I can, and when it’s time to rest, I will know I gave it everything I could. The miles I log will tell my story.

Back to Work

Today was my first day back at work, and I beyond excited to be back. Am I ready? Mentally – hell to the yeah. I am someone who loves and appreciates a routine. Recovering from major surgery and dealing with the fact that I have metastatic disease has honestly made these past six weeks feel like six months. All I had to do each day was think about my poor health and catastrophize my fate.

Needless to say, time dragged.

Work will be a welcome reprieve from my worried mind. I can focus on audit, fraud, and whatever else I have been tasked with. Work will allow me to be more than just a cancer patient. I mean, yeah, I’m a cancer patient, but I can put on a different hat for the majority of my week.

Plus, I like working, and I really love the team I am on at work. We are a great, supportive team. I truly enjoy figuring things out, editing, research, and analysis.

Am I ready physically? Maybe. I am tired, friends. My body feels foreign to me now. For the last couple of days, my legs have felt heavy, and I feel winded just walking up stairs. This time last year, I ran a marathon!

The gyn oncologist cleared me for exercise today at my 6-weeks post op appointment, and I am already setting goals for myself. I would love to be able to run a 5K in the spring. Even if I am slow as hell, I am going to keep moving until my body tells me I have to stop.

I swear to GOD, I will crotch punch anyone who cries at the sight of me running and refers to me as inspirational. Never ever ever ever ever make me the subject of any inspiration porn.

I just want to live my life, and I’m going to do whatever I can to have more good days than bad.

5 Stages of Grief

It has only been one month since my oncologist told me that I had metastatic breast cancer, and it’s only been a little over three weeks since my hysterectomy. Honest to dog, it feels like a couple months since all this began, as if I am in a suspended state. Between Covid-19 and my medical leave of absence, I have no concept of time anymore.

During this period of time, I have definitely cycled through the different stages of grief, which I imagine is quite common.

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

If you are like me and need a refresher as to what constitutes the 5 Stages of Grief, refer to this article on Psycom.net (link), which discusses the Kubler-Ross Model.

DENIALAvoidance, Confusion, Elation, Shock, Fear

I previously believed that denial involved only avoidance, and even thought at one point, “Well, at least I never visited the denial phase.” Boy, I was wrong.

During September, I had both a bone scan and a CT scan of my neck down to my special area. When the bone scan posted to MyChart stated that my sternum presented as potential metastatic disease, I had a delayed mental breakdown. I had an important meeting that morning, which I had to lead. I told myself that I could break down later. When it was safe, I ended up taking a half day from work because I went to a bad place.

Quite simply, I went into shock. 

I swear, I knew that very day I was going to be stage 4 and that my cancer was back. I was already back in the chemo chair in my mind. I rocked back and forth in a corner in my bedroom, whispering, “I can’t do this” over and over again. My face went numb. My arms went numb and eventually, my hands went numb. I couldn’t

My loved ones who knew I was having a panic attack about this told me, “Oh this could be the result of your trip and fall.” I wanted to believe them and go along with their theory, and I eventually agreed it could be a possibility. I never really believed it fully, but I wanted to.

The fear that I felt that day will stay with me for a very long time. It’s the type of fear that consumes you and changes you. It definitely changed me.

ANGER – Frustration, Irritation, Anxiety

Oh, I have visited this stage and camped out here for a spell. Heck, I think I have bought a house in this stage, renovated it, and redecorated. I know this phase so well. I have felt angry, and why not? I’m allowed.

I did everything I was supposed to do to ensure that I didn’t suffer the same fate as my mother. I started getting yearly mammograms at the age of 25, and sometimes, I had to go twice a year. With every mammogram, I had an ultrasound done due to having dense breast tissue (aka fibrocystic breast tissue). I had multiple fiboradenomas, and multiple biopsies.

At the age of 30, doctors found my breast cancer at stage 1b. I “caught it early.” I went through absolute hell and back for almost 2 years – a lumpectomy, chemotherapy (including anaphylactic shock), radiation, double mastectomy, and reconstruction. Still, to this day, I experience legit flashbacks if I ever get lightheaded and dizzy because that’s the sensation I felt before anaphylactic shock.

I. Did. It. All.

My oncologist threw everything but the sink at me, and I came out of that period of my life scarred and shell shocked. I even had my oncologist repeatedly tell me that the odds of it coming back were so small because of the early stage and aggressive treatment. I did everything I could to prevent this, to not end up like my mother, and it still fucking happened. This should make me angry, and it’s okay to be angry. I’m not going to pretend to be someone or something I am not.

BARGAINING – Struggling to Find Meaning, Reaching Out to Others, Telling One’s Story

Man, if I thought I could bargain my way out of this, I absolutely would. For real, if I had something I could offer in order to not have this disease, then I would do it. “Lara, you will no longer have stage 4 cancer anymore if you give up coff-” “DONE.”

In all seriousness, I don’t consider myself all that religious, so I don’t typically hold conversations with God. I didn’t, nor will I ever, ask God why this has happened to me because why not? Me having stage 4 cancer is not some horrible tragedy. It’s genetics.

It might also be that I don’t believe that God gave me cancer, or that I have been set on some journey. (Whenever I read ‘cancer journey,’ I cringe. It’s a disease, not a trek in the woods.)

While I haven’t had any “WHY GOD WHY” conversations with a higher being, I have been struggling to find meaning in all of this. One of the reasons why I love(d) running so much is that it allowed me to be someone other than a cancer patient. I got to be a runner, an athlete. I wanted to test my physical capabilities, especially after my body betrayed and failed me.

Life as a cancer mutant with a rare genetic condition means I live a different life. I have had a black and white view of what this body of mine does, and this diagnosis has me wondering if it just all grey. Maybe my body didn’t fail me? Maybe my body did what it just does, and I just have to navigate these setbacks and accomplishments more graciously?

DEPRESSION – Overwhelmed, Helplessness, Hostility, Flight

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 4 people with cancer suffer from major or clinical depression (source). I have made absolutely no secret that I have dealt with depression before. After treatment for my early stage breast cancer ended, I suffered and I struggled with my life. I had to reach out for help when it got really bad for me in my early 30s.

An October 2, 2013 article on MD Anderson’s website provides the following symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad most of the time
  • Loss of pleasure and interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Nervousness
  • Slow physical and mental responses
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling guilt for no reason
  • Decreased concentration ability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

In addition to medication, MD Anderson recommended the following activities to manage symptoms of depression: psychotherapy exercise, and stick to routine. The article explained, “Following a routine can help you maintain a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of control, both of which can be negatively affected by cancer and depression. A routine can also help push an individual to engage in activities they wouldn’t necessarily be motivated to complete.”

I did end up doing all of those suggestions, and it worked for me! Once I got help, started running and dumped a horrible boyfriend, I got my depression and anxiety under control. I really did climb out of the fog of depression and learned to really enjoy my life.

Now… *waves around* this.

I am struggling with the enormity of this disease, and what it’s taken from me. When I read the symptoms of depression listed above, I can say that I can check off six of those items. What I have feared for so long has come to be. For so long, I have been absolutely frightened that I was going to end up just like my mother, and now that it has happened, I’m just a scared 40 year old who wishes she had her Mom.

Be rest assured that I do have a good network of support to assist me as I come to terms with my new normal. If I can get back to running, even if at a much slower pace, then that will help me manage my depression. I also think being off work right now is playing a part in my mood. I enjoy a schedule and routine, and I also appreciated the ability to not think about cancer for 8 hours a day.   

ACCEPTANCE – Exploring Options, New Plan in Place, Moving On

What does it meant to achieve acceptance with a stage 4 diagnosis? I know and understand that my life is going to regularly consist of doctor’s visits, blood draws, scans, and sometimes surgeries. None of this will be easy, and I likely will regress back to the earlier phases more often than not. I truly believe that this phase will involve layers upon layers of events and truths that I need to accept, until I get to the final layer, the core: inner peace.

I have accepted that I have stage 4 breast cancer. It’s not like I have a choice, and I can somehow opt out of this. If I could, I fucking would. (Way too many people say that “cancer is a gift” and if that was true, I’d keep my receipt and return this.) This is my life now, and I can either fight my circumstances or do whatever I can to accept all of this and adapt. It’s not an act of bravery to accept my stage 4 diagnosis. It’s a necessity.

When I dig deeper, there are some hard truths that require reflection and acceptance. I accept the fact that I will die from this disease. I also accept that there is a possibility that I may not see my 50s or my 60s. I have to accept the fact that I may not even see 45, although I do hope that is not the case. This could all be out of my control.

As noted above, I want to achieve inner peace. This disease has forced me to rethink about what my priorities are and what they should be. I, for sure, want to figure out my new plan. I’m not going to figure it all out now. I can’t plan this out. I just have to let go.