I flew past the five year milestone
Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day is an important date in the national Breast Cancer Awareness Month schedule. Here, Alison Banova, member of BCNA’s metastatic breast cancer advisory group shares her experience of living with metastatic breast cancer – from the intensity of diagnosis to the life lessons she’s learned along the way.
I flew past the five year milestone after treatment for early cancer which entailed a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and ongoing hormonal therapy. l learnt the important things that a diagnosis of any serious illness or incident can impart, such as making sure that I valued the moment, my family and friends, to stop sweating the small stuff and to live and love well.
My family and I moved on grateful that the “journey” seemed to be behind us. Two years on from the five year milestone when the recurrence fears had subsided to just a little and occasional tweak of anxiety I was on a long anticipated holiday when things started to change.
I found myself feeding a stray cat on the beach under the restaurant deck, the fish from my plate when no one was looking. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that I would be sick if I ate another mouthful and was strangely embarrassed by this. Then a tight little cough started as we wandered Greek temples, gazed on Roman mosaics and basked in the sunshine, my unease grew. By Naples my appetite was reduced to a tiny morsel of veal scaloppini while my family scoffed spaghetti volcani. When we arrived in Rome I found that when I was walked up stairs I would be completely breathless. I knew something was not right but I kept thinking that “it is very hot and I really must get back into shape!”
A week after our return to Melbourne and six days after my first visit to my GP I woke with the small old cough but now it was painful on my left side when I coughed. The CT scan for the suspected pulmonary embolism instead revealed cancer in my lungs, liver and bones. Great I thought “the bloody trifecta!”
On reflection I am not sure that I actually knew what a return or spread of breast cancer would look like or feel like and I think that maybe I took too much reassurance from passing that five year milestone.
So here I am a further two years on, as a MBC lifer with treatment required for the remainder of my life. The diagnosis was an overwhelming experience. I recognise that there is much that I am likely to miss out on like weddings, births and grandchildren but I have realised that there is not a lot that I can do about that, aside from doing my best to remain as fit and healthy as possible, aside from the cancer.
I have also learnt that while I’m alive, I must live and be happy and strangely most of the time I have found that I can be. It really is about learning to live in the moment. Aside for a couple of wobbles when I realised another planned and looked forward to Italian holiday would need to be cancelled, even COVID-19 has not managed to dent my passion for just getting on and living the best life I can.