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Oct 1, 2010 02:18PM
I just finished my Bark for Life Speech and thought that I would post it here---its rather long to read in this fashion but I hope that if you care to read it, you will find that my desire is to not only speak of our beloved pets but also to speak of our situation as well. I am of course limited in how long I speak and the "tone" of my message but I just couldn't do this without trying to be honest about things that mean a lot to me. Also please note, my intention is certainly not to offend anyone here on this board in any way.
Bark for Life 2010
By Teri Anderson
Good Morning everyone!! I stand here today representing one of the approximately 11.4 million people in this country living with cancer and I want to thank each and every one of you for coming today.
This year there will be an estimated 1.5 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in this country. 209,000 are expected to be breast cancer diagnoses. Heartbreakingly about 570,000 people in this country are expected to die of cancer this year with 40,000 of those deaths being breast cancer patients.
You have may have heard and it is true that breast cancer diagnoses have slightly decreased over the past few years. The amount of decrease is due to earlier detection, improved treatment and lower incidence of the disease occurring. All of that is excellent news but it doesn't address the status of those living in fear of a reoccurrence and those living with "incurable" cancer otherwise known as "metastatic" or "stage IV "cancer. Stage IV cancer is used to describe cancer that has moved from its original site-to a new-distant location. More precisely, the cancer is considered to have "metastasized" to the new location. If cancer metastasizes it shows up most often in the bones, liver, lungs or brain OR it can actually appear in more than one location. This diagnosis often arrives with a reoccurrence of cancer that one hoped was cured or it can be made the first time cancer is detected.
What you need to know is that Stage IV or metastatic cancer-is incurable-BUT "TREATABLE." What that means is that your oncologist will tailor cancer treatments that are geared to the particular characteristics of your cancer. The goal becomes managing the cancer and hopefully extending the time before the cancer becomes resistant to the treatments you are receiving.
What happens if the treatment stops working which means the cancer has "progressed"?? Well your doctor will switch you to another treatment that's available. The key word here is "AVAILABLE" ......Lives are extended by having treatments available to try as time goes on.....while we wait for a cure-that is our means of staying alive.
I'm going to share with you the stories of two women that became known to me through an online forum for people with cancer. The first posting I read led me to a website where I watched a video. Apparently some local group had started videotaping this woman's cancer journey. I clicked on the video and this is what I saw......It was a woman I'm guessing in her early 30's sitting on a couch with her two young children on either side of her....the video then cut to the woman and her husband in a private interview. What came after that had me in tears. You see the young woman had RUN OUT of treatment options and her doctor had told her that she had very little time left to live. The video then switched back to the woman with her kids on the couch. She was singing the song "Que Sera Sera" to her children and trying to hold back her tears obviously struggling with her doctor's announcement but resolved that this was a moment to make memories for her children. It was HEARTBREAKING to watch. Her kids were enjoying their mother singing and you could see that she was determined to get through the song.....She haltingly sang pushing back tears from her eyes and trying desperately to control herself. At one point one of her children asked "why are you crying Mommy?" The woman swallowed hard and said to her child, "Mommy's just sad." She ultimately finished her song and the video ended. She passed away about ten days later.
The second story concerns a posting that immediately caught my eye on the forum. It was titled "How do you say goodbye?" A lump formed in my throat as I clicked to read the email---I knew this was going to be bad news. Well the email was from a grandmother who had been very vibrant in her postings-she was approximately 62 years old and her picture was of a woman who had a lot of life left to live. What I read was a courageous, thoughtful letter to the people on the board, thanking them for their love and support over the years of her cancer journey and saying good bye. You see, she had also run out of treatment options and was told she had very little time left. Reading her words I was in awe of her ability to sum up her feelings with grace and clarity. Again, tears flowed down my face.....She passed away 5 days later.
These two women represent people living with metastatic cancer in this country. They are frighteningly young women who are mothers of often very young children, single mothers with kids worrying out loud about who will love and take care of them if Mommy dies, they are spouses, sisters, daughters, mothers and grandmothers that all have lives to live for and desperately hope that they will beat the grim statistics of their situation.
I am one of those people.
My initial diagnosis came in May of 2008. The tests all showed that a mastectomy was necessary and I chose to do a double mastectomy knowing that I only wanted to go through the surgery once and because I was convinced that it was only a matter of time for the other breast to be affected. Unfortunately the surgery revealed that my cancer had spread LOCALLY and was present in all of the 29 lymph nodes that were removed. The result was that I had Stage IIIc cancer-advanced and invasive type cancer. This was not good news although I tried to console myself by thinking that at least it wasn't Stage IV cancer. I went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 5 and ½ weeks of daily radiation and hoped and prayed that even though I had to have one treatment until the end of 2009, I hoped that I could eventually resume my life being on "high alert" for a reoccurrence. Well that hope faded about one month after I finished radiation when cancer was found in 2 places in my bones....I was Stage IV.
You know what's worse that hearing you have cancer? And believe me those words are DEVASTATING....its hearing you have a reoccurrence and now have metastatic cancer that is incurable.
So what do you do??? You do anything and everything to go through the shock and devastation that really comes with any cancer diagnosis. It's different for everyone but I can definitely say that it's a frightening, stressful experience that affects everything about your life. You are never the same again. Your moods can change in minutes from being scared to hopeful to certain that your death is around the corner. It's tough to explain unless you've "been through it."
Yes, I have good friends who care deeply and try very hard to be there for me, but I have no family left, I'm unmarried and I live alone..... But I'm not really alone at home. The one constant in my life has been that little guy over there who is everything to me. .......I have Truman and that dog has been my saving grace since the first day I was diagnosed. He senses how I feel at any given moment and is there even if my moods swing like a pendulum. I don't have to form a sentence with him, I don't have to reassure him, I don't have to pretend that I'm okay-I can be my stripped down raw self no matter how frightened and sad or emotional that I feel. He is how I get through most days because cancer is a very personal experience and it can also be a very lonely experience. You can't really and truly "share" your cancer experience. Your particular journey and your feelings about it are your own like everyone else's experience.
Dogs however are just there for YOU. You can say whatever is on your mind out loud without the need to explain yourself. You can be 40 pounds overweight, have no makeup on and walking around in your underwear with a dog. You don't have to phone them to come over, you don't need to work into their schedule, you don't need to feel as though they really don't understand or feel awkward because you realize they don't really want to talk about it anymore. I find that to be stress relieving and therapeutic on so many levels.
Truman licked my bald head, tickled my neck when my hair started growing back, laid next to me when I was too tired to be upright....He rarely left me alone and just sat silently nearby watching my every move. Without fail he jumped on the bed when he heard me crying and came over to me to lick my hand and lay down. He still does all that.
In my lowest points, Truman has been a reason to get up in the morning when I'm too tired and too emotional to face the day. I love him too much to fail him in any way and that also means that one of my strongest hopes is that I live longer than Truman. I wish I could tell you that is a sure thing but currently it is not. I don't want to have to send him away or be the first to say goodbye. He is there and so I feel less alone. In turn he's something that depends on me and I'm so grateful for that. It gets my focus onto something other than cancer.
Dogs want you to be okay and that's because of their devotion and unconditional love for you. There is a woman who posts on one cancer forum that has a lab mix dog who senses when she is unsteady and stands next to her so she doesn't fall. There are countless other stories of people citing their dogs as a safe haven around which they can truly be themselves. Obviously they're not troubled by the details of your situation and no matter how frightened or grim your statistics are-they seem to have "hope" in their eyes. They are all about love and nothing else. You may be wondering about what statistics I'm speaking about. Well for metastatic, stage IV breast cancer patients, there is about a 22% chance that they will be alive in 5 years. Though that survival percentage is frightening, you need to know that it has improved over the past 15 years. According to a recent press release by MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the years of 1985-through 1994 saw only an 11.2% five year chance of survival for those with metastatic breast cancer. Things are improving but that's still and average of 78% of breast cancer patients dying in 5 years.
That word "hope" that I said a moment ago.....that is like air to breathe for all cancer patients. It is essential and gets you through some very difficult times. Oh everyone has hopes of some sort throughout their lives, some big, some small. But I have found that there is nothing that can compare with the hope to live. It's bigger than anything else.
In closing let me say that if I had to be in this situation at all, it's a little better now than it was even 8 years ago. I am benefiting by the use of a treatment that came on the market in 2002. Oh it's not without risks---as most cancer treatments have-but its helped me at least to this point and I "hope" that it continues to work for me. But the problem is what I stated before---what happens when it stops working because cancer mutates and eventually becomes resistant to a given treatment? What, if anything else will work for me? That question is what terrifies people with metastatic cancer. Will they run out of treatments?
Well it is events like these that give me hope. With your help people that suffer a reoccurrence or already have Stage IV cancer have a reason to hope. There is a long road ahead but strides are being made. Dollars are needed however and this is why I want to thank each of you. With your presence here and your dollars raised, I may be able to outlive Truman.....and people that want to live out their lives, see their children and grandchildren grow up and take part in what life has to offer may be able to do so too.
We're all hoping for that.......
Mets to bones and skin
5/26/2008, IBC, Stage IIIC, Grade 3, 29/29 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+
6/6/2009, IBC, Stage IV, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2+