Clemson mom: My bestie is dying
I met Michelle in 2003 and, over time, we became friends, then best friends, and now we’re like sisters. We even decided long ago that when we were little old ladies we would be like the Golden Girls, living together and complaining about our children and our men.
In June 2016, Michelle called me to tell me she had found a lump in her breast and she was going for a mammogram. She said it was probably just a cyst. She was wrong.
A month later she was informed she had stage IV metastatic breast cancer, which meant the cancer had spread beyond the breast and was growing in other places of the body. For Michelle, it was in her bones, her spine and her brain. Just recently the cancer began to attack her skin. What does this mean?
She’s terminal. Initially, she was given three to five years to live. When she told me, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t imagine how she was feeling.
In the two years since, I’ve learned a lot about metastatic breast cancer. Like how 25 percent of people who overcame early stage cancer will develop metastatic cancer. Like how every day, 113 women (and men) die from this incurable disease. Those are some scary numbers.
Most people think breast cancer is a terrible, but curable, disease. They think after chemo the hair will grow back, the breasts will be reconstructed, and people can move on with their lives. But for the 155,000 people in the United States living with stage IV, there is no moving on with their lives.
Michelle knows she will never have the label “survivor.” I had a necklace made for her that says, “surviving,” because that is what she’s doing every single day. Every day brings her one day closer to death and she is doing her best to live a good life with what time she has left.
Just for clarification — Michelle is not old. She was diagnosed in 2016 at 35 years old. She was not unhealthy. She was a very active nurse and even kept working about a year after diagnosis. She is married and has three little girls, ages 11, 8 and 6.
I’m not sharing this for pity or sad faces. I’m sharing this because most people don’t know. I knew cancer was a horrible thing, but to me, it was curable. Except my best friend will never be cured this side of heaven, though I do pray daily for a miracle. I still hold out hope that she will be the Rose to my Dorothy in my golden age.
Metastatic breast cancer needs more attention and research. If you want more information about stage IV breast cancer, visit www.metavivor.org.
And Michelle, you’re my person.