Married, mom of two boys, natural caregiver
ABOUT CHRIS, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- Oldest of three siblings—which is a nice way to say I try to control a lot of things I have no control over. It also means I’m a caregiver.
- Passionate in helping people—community supporter, church member, wish-granter are all words friends and family have used to describe me.
- Worked in healthcare administration—and loved it!
I am a wife and a mother of two boys. I’m also the oldest of three siblings and I’ve always felt that it was my obligation to live up to those “oldest” sibling responsibilities, which is a nice way to say I try to control a lot of things I have no control of. But it also means I’m a caregiver. I’ve always been passionate about helping people. Community supporter, church member, wish-granter—these are all words friends and family have used to describe me. I was a candy striper in a hospital (that shows you how old I am!) and volunteered in a nursing home before I was old enough to work. I even became a Girl Scout, and, as one friend pointed out to me, “Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout.”
These are qualities I want my two boys to grow up seeing and doing. I want them to be raised helping others without expecting anything in return, and I want them to go that “extra mile” for someone in need and be proud to do it.
I think there are times we lose sense of these values as we go through life. Before my diagnosis, I was healthy and fell victim to that routine we all get into—get up, go to work, come home, make dinner, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. Before I retired, I worked in an academic healthcare organization, one of the largest in Southeastern Wisconsin, for 14 years and fell victim to that work routine.
But even though I worked in healthcare administration (and loved it!), I only went to the doctor for a sinus infection or the seasonal cold. One winter, my chest felt heavy, and my back hurt. I went to the doctor that morning, and after a quick exam, I was told it was my back and I needed to be seen by a chiropractor. After months of being treated by a chiropractor and still having the same symptoms, I sought another opinion.
This physician took the time to listen to my symptoms, ordered a CT test, which showed an abnormality, and immediately requested I go to the hospital for an MRI. That night, they called to tell me nothing was pinching my spine, but I needed to follow up with an oncologist on Monday. My head was spinning—why do I need to see an oncologist when I only had a CT and an MRI of my back?
Coping With Diagnosis As A Family
But when Monday came, the oncologist told my husband and me something that took us weeks to truly comprehend. He said, “I believe you have breast cancer that spread to your bones, and it is incurable.” What does that even mean? Nobody in my family ever had breast cancer. I’ve had mammograms in the past with no issues. I only had back pain.
Cancer is a group that nobody wants to sign up for—but once you’re in it, it is how you deal with it that shows your strength. My family had to show our strength when my husband was first diagnosed with cancer and again when I was diagnosed. We turned our strength toward our boys—showing them we were going to turn lemons into lemonade.
Looking back, that was the best thing for our family. Even though it was the toughest thing we had ever faced together, it was better that we were able to communicate and share our concerns and feelings from the onset. We also learned that there is strength in numbers, and we were very fortunate to have many family and friends in our support system.
Don’t get me wrong—in those early days, I went through the gamut of emotions most of us have gone through. But I soon learned I had a healthcare team that worked with me, and I put my trust and control in their hands.
My oncologist talked to me about starting this first-line oral treatment plan with IBRANCE in combination with letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor. He thought the plan would work for me in treating the progression of my HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer; I didn’t know what to think about it at first. But I put my control in my oncologist’s hands. He patiently explained IBRANCE’s possible benefits and common and potentially serious side effects, and he thought I was a good candidate for this medication.
My doctor and I have been happy with my results while on this treatment plan. However, I have experienced side effects including lower white blood cell counts, headaches, and fatigue. I’ve been working with my doctor on my dosing, and I make sure to take it as prescribed. But that’s just me—other patients might experience common side effects including infections or nausea. On days when I don’t feel like getting out of bed, I push myself to do just that, whether by walking around the house or just getting outside. I know, in the end, that is the best thing for me.
In looking back at where I started to where I am now, a lot has changed. My life was my career and retiring felt like the end of my world. Now, I can’t fathom working that much, and I’m much more active in my kids’ lives.
When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want to see anybody, much less talk about it. In doing what I love now and sharing my story with others, I describe my cancer as a membership to an exclusive club, and I have the Gold Premier Lifetime Membership! I’ve paid my dues along with many others, and the only thing we can hope for in return is for another day, another month, or even more with our family, friends, and loved ones.
Again, I realize I can’t control my cancer, but I can still control the same thing I’ve always controlled—my impact on other people. Instead of acting like a cancer victim, I’m going out to educate others on metastatic breast cancer and I’m living out my dreams. I also want to show my boys there is life after a cancer diagnosis (even a terminal diagnosis). I want them to be proud of what I accomplished, and I want them to follow in my footsteps of helping those in need, because everybody will need someone strong in their life and being that person is more rewarding than anything else they could earn over their lifetime.
I no longer say I’m dying with cancer, but rather, today, I’m living with Stage IV. Even though my diagnosis is incurable, I choose not to live in fear as a terminal cancer patient. I’ve learned that fear is a choice, and we can choose to be a coward or we can choose to stand tall like a mighty lion and be comforted that we were not created with the spirit of fear. So I, Chris, choose to be a lion. Because nobody will know when their day will come, but we should not be defined by a diagnosis.