I consider myself lucky, believe it or not. I know many wouldn’t consider me to fall into that category when I consider that I have this awful cancer. But, it could be worse. I am a stage 3 for one thing. In case you don’t know, there are 4 stages of cancer. It goes from best to worst. Stage 4 is where the cancer has spread (metastasized) to a different area of your body. I am a stage 3. It’s not the greatest, but there is hope! And that is really the only thing I can ask for. A chance to fight. A hope for remission. One out of 3 women are diagnosed with stage 4 when they are diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. I, my friends, am lucky.
My luck doesn’t end there. I am lucky because my oncologist is Dr. Massimo Cristofanilli. If you google inflammatory breast cancer, you will see things come up time and time again. One, of course is Dr. Cristofanilli’s name, picture, research, etc., another is MD Anderson’s Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Care Clinic, the first Clinic dedicated to only IBC. This was started by Dr. Cristofanilli. Also, you will run into the IBC Research Foundation, started by a former patient of his. He helped start Erase IBC, a foundation for awareness. He started another Inflammatory breast care clinic in Philadelphia at Fox Chase. He also started the Inflammatory Breast Cancer International Consortium, where researchers, oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, foundations, etc, come together and help further the understanding of this complex cancer. He’s pretty much the guru of inflammatory breast cancer. He literally is the best IBC doctor in the world, and he’s my oncologist. So..yeah, I’m pretty lucky.
I am lucky that I have such support. This is something that I have been blessed by God with. (I am nearly on speaking terms with Him again). My husband has been making sure I rest when I get a bug up my ass to just get things done, and I push it. He works so hard at his job as a steel worker, extra even, because he’s trying to makeup for my lack on income till disability kicks in. Despite working 60 hours a week he picks up the my slack with so many things. Helping drive me to my appointments, stepping in with taking the boys to cub scouts and helping with homework and extra housework. He’s quite the catch! But, the best thing he helps me with is emotionally. He keeps me balanced somehow. If I’m having a good day, I over do it, because I want to take advantage. But, I end up often regretting it not soon after starting. There is other times where I become a log on a bed. I rest of course because I need it. But the more I’m in the bed, something creeps into me. I feel useless, or I feel hopeless. I feel detached from the life I am used to living. Just day to day what makes me who I am: the wife, the mom, the cleaner of the house, the grocery shopper, helper of homework, yard maintenance, organizer, etc. My new identity has changed. I am the cancer fighter. I am the ‘warrior’. I have a hard time with this identity. I try to brush it away often, and try to resume normal life, but when I ignore it, my body reminds me very quickly. I have to take care of myself so that I can one day be able to care for them again, properly. He’s my handsome hero. He keeps me balanced in so many ways. We go off balance often, truthfully, but, less often as time goes by; and we always find our way back.
I’m lucky for my sons. I have two boys. One is 10, the other is 9. They are both helpful. The oldest has taken the role of helping me with the laundry. Laundry in our house is a big task. So, this is a big help. My youngest is helpful with pretty much anything I ask him to do. Mostly little things like “Can you get that, can you help me with this, can you take out the garbage?” etc. They are old enough to understand, I believe, a lot of what having cancer means. I can have more mature conversations with them, as well as moments of tears. I am not alone in this journey, and for that I am lucky.
I’m lucky my parents live nearby and they are willing to help me in so many ways. My mom watches the kids every time I have to travel to Chicago 1- 1 1/2 hours away for a treatment, or a test or an appointment. She helps me with the house, vacuuming, dishes, bathrooms, laundry, etc. Shes there for me emotionally and she’s just been incredible. I’m so lucky. My dad drives me to chemo half the time and he even restrains himself and drives slowly to calm my nerves. (This takes some doing for him, as I believe he was meant to be a race car driver). He helps out with whatever he can, enjoys coming over and visits me whenever he can, and he even did the dishes one day!
I’m lucky to have my siblings. They are across the country in different directions, but they check in with me often. They make sure to know dates of appointments, call me for results, and they’ve been really supportive. It’s been nice having them be more involved in my life. Both of them have made trips up here to visit me since my diagnosis. How incredible of them to do that. My brother had even flown me and the boys out to visit them for a few days and that was so awesome. Best gift. To relax and see him and give us a bit of a vacation. I’m lucky to have him as my brother cause he has his own sense of humor that I can’t get from anyone else and I love him. Growing up we were two peas in a pod. His wife is very close to me too and it was great to have sister time with her. I’m lucky.
I’m lucky my sisters in laws are awesome. My mother in law got diagnosed about 3 months before me with stage 2 breast cancer. (Not inflammatory). I was planning on having her come and stay with us during her surgery recovery and radiation. I was already going over and helping her clean and go through things and I was her main person for these sorts of things. My sister in laws don’t live locally but we do. Plus, I’m pretty close with my mother in law and don’t mind helping her of course. I am lucky that they were able to take care of her during her treatments. I’m sure it was rough on them traveling to care for her. Im glad they were able to. I was in no shape to.
One of my sister in laws is a clinical oncology pharmacist. I’m lucky that she is. She’s helped me with everything to helping me get hooked up with Dr. C, to helping me with small questions about side effects from chemo. This is her specialty, chemo. And I had some things through my chemo journey that have came up that she really helped me with. She’s also become close to me, which, truthfully, she wasn’t before. She’s become someone I can talk to about pretty much anything now. It’s really nice. I’m lucky.
I’m lucky to have Bev, who is my cancer sister. She also has stage 3 IBC. She is one of two people I have met in real life with ibc, (the other one has been doing well for, I believe 8 years, and she now works for dr. C.) I met Bev in chemo one day. She overheard me telling the nurse that I had to go above and beyond and get the special and rare cancer. She asked me what type of cancer I have, and that was it, we instantly bonded. She is one week ahead of me in treatment. What’s the chances of finding someone literally in the same boat as you? I don’t know, but, even with having the worlds ibc guru at Northwestern, I haven’t met anyone else with it. It’s that rare. She is great. We get along well and we are scheduled for our mastectomies one week apart. We get to compare side effects, compare treatment plans, compare what our doctors say, everything, we are true cancer sisters. She calls me her bosom buddy. I’m so lucky to have her.
I’m lucky for my friends, too. People who have stepped up and send me cards or call me, or even hang it with me. There is a small handful who have made it a point to check in on me. It’s not a bother, it’s wonderful. I love them, and their kindness especially during this time of my life, means so much and will not be forgotten. I’ve received so many cards, and I’ve failed to send thank you cards back. I will. But, if your reading this, know it is not unnoticed and it is so appreciated. It touches my heart, the gestures of kindness. So simple, I guess, but it means so much.
I’m lucky. I might have this rare shitty cancer, but I feel lucky because of my peeps. From everyone from my oncologist, my catching cancer before stage 4, all my friends and family, to the little cards and calls.
I’m so very lucky. And, thank you.