Daughter, wife, protector
ABOUT VICKI, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- I never thought I could get worse news than my mother having a Stage II diagnosis and now it’s Stage IV.
- As her caregiver, everyone looks to me for information and updates. It’s a role I’ve been happy to take on, but the responsibility can be heavy.
- I know as a caregiver I need to remember to take care of myself, and that’s something I’ve tried to do more of.
- I’ve learned to count on my faith and my own support system to strengthen me.
About Me & My Mom
Nobody ever expects cancer to come into their loved one’s life; I know I didn’t. But when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and then mBC just a few weeks later, cancer became my life too. When she is physically or emotionally hurting, I am hurting; when she is tired from scans or appointments, I’m tired. Honestly, her doctor appointments feel like they’ve become my own. I can’t tell you how much cancer has impacted my life, but I’ve learned to count on my faith and my own support system to strengthen me.
How It All Started
My mom noticed a slight change in her left breast. Because cancer runs in our family, she called the doctor for her yearly mammogram. Even though my maternal grandmother had breast cancer and was in remission for 10 years before it came back, we tried not to worry. However, we grew more concerned when the doctor requested a biopsy of her left breast and axilla because of the spotted lumps.
My husband and I went with my mom to get the biopsy done. I made her stay at my apartment that night because I wanted her to be with me, and not alone. Then, all we could really do was wait and try not to worry. A day after the biopsy, my mom called me at work. In seconds, a typical phone call had turned into news of her Stage II breast cancer diagnosis. My body went numb; I fell into instant sadness and denial. I even looked at my phone over and over just to make sure it was actually my mom on the line and not some crazy joke. She said, “Try to stay calm, and call me when you get off work.” My boss told me to leave to go be with my mom, so I drove straight to her house.
Immediately, we started searching for an oncologist. Both my mom and I like to take control and be our own advocates, so we knew it was important for us to find a doctor she could build a personal relationship with—someone she could really talk to and who didn’t make her feel like she was just a patient or statistic. We made a list of oncologists and started knocking appointments out one by one. Soon, we found a doctor who was very positive. He reassured us that we can conquer this. We were hopeful, and trusted we could put this all behind us after surgery to remove both breasts and the cancerous lymph nodes. The only thing standing in between my mom and that surgery was a PET scan.
From Bad To Worse
One early Wednesday morning, I was still lying in bed after my husband left for work when my mom called. She was crying so hard that she could barely get out the words: “Vicki, it’s Stage IV. It’s metastatic and it’s everywhere.” I was so confused; What is she talking about? What is she saying? In one moment, my whole world came crashing down. I never thought I could get worse news than my mother having a Stage II diagnosis and now it’s Stage IV!?
All I wanted to do was be with my mom. I called my boss and couldn’t even get the words out; the only thing I could say was, “It’s Stage IV.” Once I did, I went straight to my mom’s house. We collapsed into each other’s arms and just sat there hugging and crying. I don’t know if it was because we initially had such positive feedback from the oncologist or just the sheer fact this cancer was everywhere and now Stage IV, but I couldn’t get over the shock.
The doctor didn’t want to discuss the details over the phone, so we had to wait until the next day to meet him. Needless to say, the next 24 hours were brutal. The second the doctor walked in, we knew it was bad. He confirmed she had Stage IV cancer and told us it had metastasized to her chest, pelvis, neck, and two places in her spine. I couldn’t believe my mom had treatable but incurable cancer. I looked at my mom and could see panic on her face, silently telling me to get her out of there.
Learning To Cope
Ever since I was little, I’ve always been a person who keeps things bottled up inside. But from the moment my mom was diagnosed, I wanted to be there for her, and knew this wasn’t the time to shut down, although it was easier said than done. As her caregiver, everyone looks to me for information and updates. It’s a role I’ve been happy to take on, but the responsibility can be heavy.
That appointment was miserable, but the doctor did mention a treatment plan that he thought she was a good candidate for. He told us about IBRANCE in combination with letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor, as a first-line treatment for HR+/HER- metastatic breast cancer in postmenopausal women. We did our research into the risks and benefits, and my mom discussed IBRANCE more in-depth with the doctor. We got a better understanding of it and decided to move forward.
Thankfully, right now IBRANCE in combination with letrozole is working for my mom. She has experienced side effects, including low white blood cell counts and nausea, as well as constipation, diarrhea, and hot flashes. However, this is just her experience, and everybody is different. Other patients might experience other common side effects, infections, or fatigue. We know my mom will always have cancer, but just knowing that today the medicine is helping her—we can dig it!
Finding Our Way
Her body’s response to treatment came as good news in the middle of a lot of sadness, anger, and confusion. I struggled for a while under the stress of everything that was going on. For me, the moment I became more active in my mom’s care and the more I made it part of my life, the easier it became to deal with. I know as a caregiver I need to remember to take care of myself, and that’s something I’ve tried to do more of. It’s definitely been a process, but I talk with my husband a lot; he forces me to talk even when I don’t feel like it and I’m thankful for his patience.
It’s easy as a caregiver to lose perspective on yourself and your life. You have all the bad thoughts about cancer and everything becomes about the person battling it. But even if, like me, you want to shut down, try not to. Whether it’s anger or crying, a caregiver still needs to vent. It’s healthy! So I always encourage other caregivers to find someone to listen—or write their thoughts down.
Even though I wish I had done that sooner for myself, I’m proud that I never stepped down from doing the things that needed to be done for my mom. Through this experience, I’ve learned I’m much stronger than I ever thought. Cancer is now a part of our life, but it’s something we’re taking on as a family—my mom, sisters, and I—and I wouldn’t have it any other way.