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Meet Cathy...

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I'd like to introduce everyone to Cathy better known in our community as elizabeth06. Please take a moment to learn more about her wonderful family and how she found out she had metastatic breast cancer.

My name is Cathy, I am 61 years old.  I am the oldest of eight siblings, I have three children, 2 boys and a girl, and 1 step-daughter.  Just over a year ago, my first grandchild was born, a girl, she brings us so much joy.

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I grew up near Montreal, moved to Ottawa at twenty, then to Alberta for fifteen years, following my first husbands career, then back to Ottawa as that marriage ended.  I met my current husband, an older brother of a high school friend, not long after moving east.  This year we will celebrate our twentieth anniversary. He has been a never ending source of support and encouragement throughout my cancer journey, a great life partner.

The year my husband retired, at 65, I had been having some medical issues that required testing and further investigation.  After several abnormal Pap tests, I was referred to a Gynecologist who sent me for two different ultrasounds, the second revealed fluid in the abdomen and an ovarian cyst.  I was recalled to his office and sent for blood tests that indicated a very elevated ca 125 level.  I was called back and referred to a Gynecological Oncologist for ovarian cancer.  Once I had that referral things happened really quickly.  We were told I needed a complete hysterectomy, to cancel any travel plans we had as I would be too ill to participate.  We had a Mediterranean cruise booked for June, this was the first week in April.

Within a week, I had the surgery.  My husband, kids, my mom and two sisters were all waiting for results as the surgeon had indicated that they would get an initial pathology report by the time the surgery was completed.  It indicated “no ovarian cancer “.  All my husband heard was no cancer.  My husband and kids saw me in recovery that evening.  The surgery had taken longer than expected.  My husband was so happy when he saw me, telling me there was no cancer.  I was taken aback because everything had indicated cancer.  When I saw the surgeon, she kept saying, well it’s not ovarian cancer, but something is going on, we will have to complete some further testing.  This was my introduction to the way different people hear and process information.  My husband and family were all celebrating this “great news”. I won some kind of lottery.  I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I had a catscan the week after surgery and waited for the full pathology and follow up visit with the surgeon.At the four week mark, post surgery, I was feeling recovered and hopeful about the future.  I was ready to return to work and get my life back.

The universe had other plans for me.  At the next appointment, the surgeon waited for a nurse to join her, before talking to us about results.  I began to sense this wouldn’t be good news.  She revealed that the full pathology indicated invasive lobular breast cancer present in all the samples they tested.  They asked when my last mammogram was.  The answer was the previous May.  I had been followed by the Ontario breast cancer screening program for over ten years.I asked about the catscan and it indicated cancer in the the pelvis, iliac crests, right femur head and lower spine.  All I kept thinking is “I’m dead”.

The surgeon had already arranged for me to meet a breast cancer oncologist the following day.  My husband and I began listing questions we had and waited for the sleepless night to pass. My oncologist answered every question, filled in with information about lobular breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer.  Lobular cancer does not form a lump.  It grows in thin layers between the tissues and is often undetected by any of the current methods.  It affects 10-15% of those diagnosed with breast cancer.  As it spreads it likes linings and often grows in the abdomen, gastrointestinal track and reproductive organs.

I had a mammogram, breast MRI and ultrasound of the breast.  None of these methods detected evidence of cancer, even when they knew exactly what they were looking for. A follow up catscan and bone scan revealed the extent of the metastasis.  There were more spots on various bones and one small spot on my liver.

That first year, I had to come to terms with a new identity.  Cancer patient. Terminal cancer patient.  Treatment for as long as I live. There are many cancers that are difficult to detect so they are often advanced by the time of diagnosis.  I know I am not alone or unique.

At the beginning I was probably able to return to work. I chose not to, instead applying for LTD.  I did not want to work until I was too unwell to work.  I recognize that my life will be shortened and I wanted to spend time with my husband and family.  I feel really lucky that I was able to make that choice.

This month, October, is breast cancer awareness month.  A lot of attention will be brought to early detection and awareness.  Not a lot of attention will be brought to those of us living with metastatic breast cancer, or stage four breast cancer I was diagnosed “de novo” stage four at diagnosis.  Approximately 8-10% of patients will be diagnosed at this stage.  Stage four is the only stage you die from.  Once the cancer has adapted to growing in other organs, outside the breast, there is no cure.
I am starting my fourth line of treatment on October 1.  I have scans every three or four months to determine if there is stability or progression of the cancer.  If there is progression, it means the last form of treatment has failed and we try a new one.  Waiting for results can be anxiety producing.  We don’t plan things beyond that four month window.  There is no “bell” ringing for those of us living with metastatic disease.

I haven’t been told there are no more options, so, onward we go.  But, that day will come.
I joined cancer connections this spring.  I was having difficulty with people who made odd comments about my medical status and needed advice and some perspective.  Just reading others stories and feeling the support has been wonderful.  I wish I had reached out sooner.  I have been living with cancer for five and a half years now, and hope for more. I have adapted to my new circumstances.  My life, living my life, goes on.

No one said it wouldn’t be difficult, but, it is worth it.

#LIFER
Thanks for reading,

 




Comments

thanks for sharing your story, Cathy...
  • Posted Tue 11 Dec 2018 09:35 AM EST
It is so great to hear the whole story of your experience with cancer, Cathy. And it is especially wonderful to hear of your family's tremendous support and, as Lianne_adminCCS‍ says,  to see that adorable face of your granddaughter.
This story, like all your posts, sends such a strong message that none of us are alone in what we are going through.
Thank you!
 
  • Posted Wed 17 Oct 2018 02:33 PM EDT
Thanks, Anne!
  • Posted Thu 18 Oct 2018 07:42 AM EDT
Thank you so much for sharing Cathy. It is important to remember that not everyone is going to "ring the bell" and you are an excellent example of someone living with cancer.
PS - Oh my goodness that little face is so cute!
  • Posted Fri 12 Oct 2018 05:34 PM EDT
thanks Lianne.  We think she is adorable.  So full of life, it is infectious 
  • Posted Thu 18 Oct 2018 07:44 AM EDT
Thank you Cathy. 
 
  • Posted Fri 12 Oct 2018 05:27 PM EDT
Thank you Cathy for sharing your story.  I'm glad you've had the last 5 1/2 years now, and hope there are many more as research brings more things to try.
  • Posted Fri 12 Oct 2018 04:26 PM EDT
Thanks, Gayle!  There are new treatments being developed, it is getting access to those treatments that is challenging.  Most recently my oncologist prescribed Ibrance.  The Ontario government will not pay for it unless it is your first line of treatment.  It costs 7000 per month.  It was not available when I was newly diagnosed.  My insurance company will not cover it, saying they are reviewing its value.
so rather than relying on my oncologist to make medical decisions, I have doors closed by politicians and money managers.  
I am very grateful for our Canadian health care system, but, there are issues that you would not be aware of until you are in the midst of one of these health crisis.
ibrance is the first new medication for MBC patients brought to market in decades and so many of us are denied access. 
  • Posted Thu 18 Oct 2018 07:59 AM EDT

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