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.

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.

So Much Love

Ever since my Stage 4 diagnosis earlier this month, I have honestly felt like I have been living in a waking nightmare. How is this real? I cry a lot, and I’m often stricken by fear and anxiety whenever I think about the enormity of having metastatic cancer.

Am I going to make it to 45?

Will I be able to outlive my dogs?

Will I see all my nieces and nephews graduate?

How much time do I have left before I can no longer work?

I try my best not to let the fear overtake me but I do acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with trying to come to terms with my mortality. I have no desire to live in denial. However, I have to remind myself that I cannot afford to live whatever time I have left with one foot in the grave. That’d be the real tragedy of this disease.

Whenever these thoughts and emotions get to be too much, I am doing my best to lean into the love that I have been shown. My goodness, I have been showered with so much love and care that it has made me cry. This time, happy tears though.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, I was a giant nerd in high school and had maybe 3 or 4 friends. My hair always looked like a frizzy mess, and I wore glasses covering up half of my face. (Why weren’t glasses trendy when I was in school? Whhhhhyyyyyy?) My stepsister, who is my age, was the popular one, and I absolutely resented that if anybody knew who I was, I was known as only her stepsister.

I got bullied a lot, and after awhile, I believed the bad things said about me. I was more inclined to believe the bad and second-guess the good. Sad thing is, I still do it. My instinct whenever I receive a compliment is either to: a.) make a joke, or b.) completely ignore it because acknowledging it makes me so uncomfortable.

If you compliment me or show me affection, IT TRIGGERS SOME SORT OF FIGHT OR FLIGHT RESPONSE IN ME.

This trait of mine might have been quirky before my cancer recurrence, but now I am finally realizing that these lies I have told myself are apparently not true. Who would have thunk? Did it take a metastatic cancer diagnosis to finally snap me out of this “haha, I’m a nerd and nobody notices me” mindset?

Don’t get me wrong – I still do not like attention, and I will not be seeking any spotlight. I don’t desire fame, and this will not change. Once I recover from surgery and adjust to my new normal, my focus will be on researching my own disease and advocating for research.

Friends, loved ones, coworkers have expressed such raw, genuine emotion to my news. Tears have been shed, and I have been on the receiving end of so much love and kindness. I have been drowning in my own fear and sorrow, and I have been reminded dozens of times over that I am loved. Friends and loved ones have shown up to take me to appointments, sent me meals, money, and have contributed to my Huffman Rules fundraiser.

I am so unbelievably grateful, and words cannot adequately express how thankful I have been. All these years where I have believed I have been flying under the radar – turns out, I’ve been popping up on radars here and there. Oh no, my cover is blown!

From the bottom of my icy cold heart, thank you thank you thank you thank you. I, of course, hope that once I heal from the surgery and have been on a steady endocrine therapy, I can get back to some semblance of normal. I want to go back to work. I definitely now want to go on vacations that I have been putting off. I want my siblings’ kids to know without a doubt how much I love them.

I have a lot to do.

Mets Monday: Susanne

For today’s Mets Monday, let me introduce you to Susanne.  This is her Facebook page and her GoFundMe page.

When were you diagnosed (initially and then at stage 4, that is, if you were not stage 4 off the bat) and at what age?  What type of breast cancer (i.e., er+ or triple neg)?

I got the call that the biopsy came back positive for cancer on November 19, 2013. A couple weeks later, a PET scan and a second biopsy confirmed it was already metastatic to the liver. I’m ER/PR+, Her2-, invasive ductal carcinoma.

I was 39 years old.

What is life like as a metser? 

Not easy. Coping with this for me is a weird dichotomy of knowing I’m going to die, and hoping I’m going to live. I wrote a blog post a while back comparing it to a Hail Mary pass in a football game. You’ve got four seconds left on the clock, and you know you’re going to lose the game, but you still keep your butt parked on the bleachers because those Hail Mary passes can and do sometimes happen in those last few seconds.

I spend time getting things ready for my funeral, arranging a pre-pay insurance, writing the obituary, figuring out what hospice I want to use, that sort of thing. It feels like the more I plan and get out of the way, the freer I am to live my life and not worry about the details. I plan for my death so I can live.

I don’t want to die. Last night I had a sobbing, screaming panic about reality. I don’t want to die. I want to be able to stay here forever, I want to grow old with my wife, I want to see the first humans on Mars, I want to be a little old lady in a nursing home someday weirding out the CNAs and decorating my room with print outs of cat macros. I don’t want to die. It’s not fair. I have so much I wanted to do, so much I still want to do. It’s not fair.


Would you say the general public as a whole knows a lot about breast cancer?

No. They know it exists, but not much beyond that. There is awareness, but pink has normalized breast cancer to the extent that we no longer think of the dying. People are aware that breast cancer is a thing that happens, but nothing more. It’s assumed that people don’t die from breast cancer anymore, that there’s a cure now, it’s just an easy rite of passage of womanhood and it’s nothing to worry about anymore.

It’s not even a chronic, treatable disease. It’s killing us and it’s not slowed down in decades. It’s not a pink, pretty, sexy, easy disease with a free boob job. We’re dying. And the general public doesn’t really know nor care.

 What does “breast cancer awareness” mean to you?

It means making the public aware that pink ribbons don’t save lives, early detection doesn’t “cure” breast cancer, and that if you have breast cancer, you’re at a risk of metastasis, period. It’s not a disease that strikes older women; young women can get it too. It’s not even a woman’s disease, men get breast cancer, and the general public isn’t aware of this. There’s awareness of a generic concept of breast cancer, what we need now is awareness of the reality of this disease. That’s seriously lacking.


What type of misconceptions about breast cancer have you encountered?  Has anyone ever said something ignorant to you, obviously not knowing what stage 4 breast cancer is?

I’ve been told that breast cancer is a ‘rite of passage’. Someone expressed relief when they found out I had breast cancer, because it’s one of the “good ones”. I was told “your hair’s growing back, though. That’s good, right?” when I was trying to explain that I was never going to be out of treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

What makes you happy?

My wife, primarily. This has been incredibly hard on her, and we have so many regrets and fears and anger about having our years together robbed by this. She is everything to me. I fight so hard against this disease because I want to stay with her forever.

SusanneJennEngagement03

What advice would you give someone who truly does want to help the breast cancer community, especially those with metastatic breast cancer?

Pay attention to where the money goes. Don’t assume that because it’s a pink ribbon, it helps anyone. There’s a multi-million dollar merchandising industry being built on the backs of the dead and the dying. Be aware of how little goes to metastatic research. Be aware that you’re not “in the clear” at any magical point. A cure for metastasis is a cure for you too. Be aware that breast cancer is being normalized and sexualized and turned into a profit machine. You are worth more than your breasts. Be aware that mammograms are not perfect. For younger women, they’re often ineffectual due to the density of breast tissue. Even for older women, they might not always show up on scans.

We deserve more, we deserve better treatment, better awareness, better research into a valid, viable cure which will benefit all stages. The death rate from metastasis has not changed over the last 40 years. Early detection isn’t saving lives. We need funding into research, and we need people to be more aware of what their dollars support.

But perhaps the most important thing is to let us have our voice. Don’t hush us up or put us in the corner and give us bare bones acknowledgment because we’re your worst nightmare. We’re dying. Don’t begrudge us our remaining time to have a voice to speak out against this disease. Don’t tell us we’re wrong when we point out the stats and the funding. Don’t defend those who want us to be quiet. You might find yourself walking in our shoes. If you don’t want to be where we are, let us try to make history and give us enough awareness for a shot at finding a cure.

We’ll be quiet enough when we’re dead.

Please visit METAvivor and Live from Stage IV for more information.