Erica’s Cancer Journey: What do you want to know?

I wonder what kinds of questions are on your mind about my Stage IV breast cancer experience: diagnoses, treatments, loss, end-of-life, appointments, mint chocolate chip milkshakes (#obsessed), daily life et cetera? Here are some questions that I’ve received from friends:

What exactly does this mean that the cancer has metastasized in your brain?

Where in the brain?

How does having a cancer blob in your brain affect your body, like are you having headaches, trouble drawing with your hand, twitching in your toes?

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Have your cravings for certain foods altered as the cancer spreads to different areas?

How are you discussing all of this with your children?

From my initial diagnosis of breast cancer, I learned that it had already metastasized, or spread, from my left breast to my bones and lungs, placing me at Stage IV. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Wait a second – is that bone cancer or lung cancer or breast cancer?” It’s still breast cancer, since that was the point of origin, and the bone and lung “mets” are the same type of cells as my breast cancer. Metastasis is Monopoly, constantly seeking new real estate until it eventually owns the board/body, or at least enough of it to win. As a blood disease, my breast cancer cells are circulating, wanting to grow the empire by snatching up St. James Place and Atlantic Avenue via my bones, liver and now brain: Boardwalk!

I learned about my brain tumors by experiencing the same types of symptoms I’ve heard described for concussions: nausea, vomiting, headaches and dizziness. An MRI scan of my brain confirmed that tumors abound in this cabeza – mostly on the left side, a few small ones on the right. I don’t feel the tumors, and I am unaware of their existence until I feel those concussionlike symptoms again. Sometimes I’m slightly tippy getting up, or I can’t process information quite as quickly as I’m used to; but the tumors are invisible from the outside, and I don’t have any pain.

My cravings dramatically increased during the steroid portion of my brain tumor treatment, and I ate practically nonstop for the first time in months. Suddenly, my schedule was all wacked out because of all of the time spent eating eating eating – and then, of course, eliminating. I became obsessed with whole milk for some reason, and I got busted by my daughter for chugging directly out of the carton [hangs head].

The way we told our kids about my brain tumors was the same way we share with them after each appointment: We just gave them a straightforward update. “Mom is feeling better from the new medicine and radiation, but the cancer has spread to her brain, like a hostile takeover. She’s also hungry all the time from the steroids right now, so watch your plates!” My son went to retrieve a drink, and I volunteered to watch his dinner so the dog wouldn’t get it. But then I ate it. So, that may have brought up some trust issues (all good, now!).

One of my coping strategies is to honor each new cancer experience by treating myself in some way (my husband and I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on this particular coping strategy). This time, I chose sandals for the new brain mets, and a Thirty-One totebag for radiation treatment. I don’t really have much “new” left in my cancer journeying, so thank goodness my birthday is coming in December, because I’m eyeing a couple of other amazing pieces.

I look forward to your own questions about my cancer journey via kidsalmanac@ulsterpublishing.com, but please remember: No matter how amazing, fascinating or compelling it is to you, never send me anything about healing or cures. Unfortunately, I have done that myself in the past with loving intent, but it is offensive in a way I wasn’t aware of until finding myself here.

Head On and Heart Strong!

Love,

Erica

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