No scandal gossip here. Press coverage of Elizabeth Edwards' metastatic breast cancer has me steamed, and as a sister cancer patient, I want to say something about it. My story with breast cancer parallels Elizabeth's. Elizabeth Edwards and I are both *living* with cancer. We are alive!
My first occurrence of breast cancer happened back in July '04; I had surgery, then chemo started the day after Kerry/Edwards lost to Bush II. What a gloomy day in the chemo lounge at UC San Francisco! The next day Elizabeth Edwards announced she, too had breast cancer. My own surgeon appeared on the local news, explaining Mrs. Edwards' treatment. My heart went out to Elizabeth Edwards as we coped with chemo at the same time.
Readers know that I applied to grad school while in chemo, got in, finished chemo, and spent two glorious years studying for an MFA in fiction, while raising my children and loving my husband. In March 2007, just before I graduated, Elizabeth announced her terrible news... news I hoped I would never have to hear for myself. I tried not to read too much about her disease and treatment. I was busy juggling family life while preparing to teach college English in the fall of 2007.
One month into my first semester of teaching, I got the same news Elizabeth had received not long before. Metastatic - spread to the spine, lung and most troubling, the liver. Like Elizabeth, I was put on hormone treatment. I looked healthy still, 45 years old, fit, lots of hair. A little overweight from cancer treatment & hormone therapy, but the metastasis took care of that!
Unlike Elizabeth, I couldn't stay on Femara. It didn't work for me, and I started intensive chemo in November 2007. That seems so long ago. I've been getting chemo once a week - three weeks on, one week off - for ten cycles now. For a long time my doctor kept telling me -- more chemo. Just keep getting chemo.
Today my doctor decided, without much warning, that I get to go off chemo after this next 4 week cycle, and go on an aromatase inhibitor. This means so much for my quality of life, you cannot imagine. My hair will grow back, and I won't feel tired and draggy from the cytotoxins in my system every week.
In this last ten months of chemotherapy, I have managed to travel a little, give four parties, finish teaching that college semester, give a talk at my graduate school, write 200 pages of my novel, blog like crazy, read books and attend my writers' group, and attend movies, dinners, parties and school functions with my children. I've baked cakes, cooked soups, crafted artisan bread. (Cooking is my hobby). I've prayed, meditated, tried a little yoga, hiked in the redwoods. I can do almost two miles at a time.
Every week I take the bus in to San Francisco for chemo, because I like the independence of commuting in. People don't know I'm a cancer patient - if it comes up and I mention it, folks are staggered. One guy was complimenting my hairdo and clearly chatting me up - I had to tell him I am actually bald, it's a wig, and I am on my way to cancer treatment. My husband tells me I still look hot, and I am pretty sure he means it.
I do not look the way I did a year ago. I don't feel the way I did a year ago. But I am very much alive. In some ways I am MORE alive, because I have shed many of the resentments and obsessions that keep me from enjoying this moment. And when they arise again, I take them less seriously.
I'm a more patient and present mother. I want the boys to remember me at my best. I still make mistakes but I practice a lot more kindness and good communication, with them and with my husband.
Now about Elizabeth Edwards. Press coverage of her often includes comments that "she's dying." Or they talk about how bad her prognosis is.
Elizabeth Edwards is living. First of all, I have been on Femara, which seems to be what EE is taking based on the Vanity Fair profile; my experience is that it's very easy to tolerate. You take a pill every day. Big deal. Elizabeth's cancer is not spreading and she is doing what she wants to do. She has problems. But she is living her life. And so am I.
I meet women all the time in the chemo ward who have been living with metastatic breast cancer for YEARS. One lady has had it for twelve years.
I am LIVING with cancer, and so is Elizabeth Edwards. Don't write us off.
Nobody, including her doctor, knows how long Elizabeth Edwards has, and nobody knows how long YOU have. I have already, sadly, outlived one of my glorious, beautiful, healthy friends who grieved with me when I was first diagnosed. So enjoy this moment. It's all you've got. It's all I've got.
I am so glad to be alive here, at sunset in Oakland, CA, on this green and spinning planet, along with Elizabeth Edwards and millions of other brave cancer patients LIVING with this disease.