Facebook Status - Metastatic Breast Cancer

By Mariclare Barrett

Mariclare Barrett is a friend of a friend. She is living with metastatic breast cancer and posted this status update on Facebook.

Art by Kelly Rae Roberts

Art by Kelly Rae Roberts

I have good news today about my wrestle with late stage breast cancer: scans show my current chemotherapy regimen is working! The cancer, which was found at an early stage and fully treated 12 years ago, much later up and metastasized widely–to most of my skeletal bones, and lungs and liver–so my past four years have been a constant struggle to live with a terminal disease.

It’s still a poor prognosis. 40,000 deaths occur each year from metastatic breast cancer. This number has not decreased significantly since 1970, despite the popularity of pink. Even with early detection and early stage diagnosis, breast cancer can spread and become lethal. That’s one sobering fact.

The other is that the treatments are harsh (surgery, radiation) and toxic (drugs.) One powerful drug I was given for my extensive bone involvement sometimes has a “side effect” of osteonecrosis (bone death) of the jaw bone. I got that at the end of last year, and have sustained pain and had oral surgery to manage it. The drug and its toxic effects haven’t been around long enough to predict what will happen next with my mandible. Constant surveillance comes with metastatic breast cancer, and this is the cycle: treat, scan, repeat. Having failed several powerful anti-cancer regimens I am grateful to have one that I’ve lived with for eight months, and can proceed with, for now.

The contents of my life have dramatically shifted over these four years. I’m no longer a teaching physician assistant at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. But for the disease I would never have retired at 62. I had a wonderful career with students and colleagues who hated to see me go. Clinical practice had been a fulfilling part of my professional life. I had recently finished coursework toward a PhD, and begun work on a dissertation that would have secured my doctorate.

Breast cancer stole that from me.

What it didn’t take was the relationships and deep connections I maintain as a mother, sister, and friend. It didn’t take my faith or hope or love: those are the graces that sustain me. I can still volunteer. I can travel as far as my energy will take me. It saddens me that cancer treatment has become the major focus of my life. Yet I have joy! Genuine joy in the gift of each new day I greet, thanks be to God. And thanks to you, for reading and sharing and caring.

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