Today's guest blog comes from Lori Tragesser. She lives and works in Indiana with her husband, Ben, and her five children. Lori was diagnosed with breast cancer on August 7, 2012 and then again with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer on August 27, 2014.
When it comes to cancer, you want to close the book on it. If you’re truly lucky, it’s a book you never have to
read. But, if you are like the 1 in 8 women who find the book of breast cancer open in your lap, you hope that you
only have to read one chapter.
I never expected to begin a second chapter.
Like so many patients, it started as something small. Well, it seemed small. For me, it was a neck pain that wouldn’t go away. I tried a new pillow, then two pillows. I tried heat and neck massages; I went to a chiropractor. Nothing worked. It wasn’t until I called my oncologist, and she recommended a bone scan, that I realized it could be something bigger.
Nearly two years to the day after my first diagnosis, I was diagnosed with ER+ HER2+ stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
Hearing those words crushed me. In fact, at that moment, I didn’t understand what it meant to have metastatic breast cancer; I thought it was just another type of breast cancer. I didn’t understand that it meant the cancer had spread and at this stage is considered incurable. Learning that? Well, it was a big blow.
Life as I knew it changed in an instant. As a wife and mother of five children, I planned a lifetime of experiences with my family: from being there to watch them graduate, to becoming a grandmother someday; I really felt like I lost all of that after I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It took about four months to dig myself out of the hole of darkness and realize that I needed to focus on a more positive outcome, and embrace the life I’m currently living and focus on my family, my job, my passions.
Today, I know now that how I live my life isn’t decided by cancer.
People often ask if I ever had an “aha moment” in my journey with cancer. I live in a small town in Indiana, where no one I know has stage 4 breast cancer, so I sometimes felt alone in this journey. It wasn’t long after my diagnosis that I learned of a number of women in my own backyard who kept their early stage diagnoses quiet. When I began to share my struggle publicly, they joined in. Together, we’ve helped spark a major awareness movement in our community.
One of the most inspiring moments in my journey was attending a Living Beyond Breast Cancer conference. There, I introduced myself as “the lonely lady in the cornfield,” but I quickly realized I wasn’t alone. There are thousands of men and women like me (and you) trying to manage this disease. Sharing our stories helps empower communities like mine. By raising our voices together, we can raise awareness about the needed research to change metastatic breast cancer from a terminal disease into a chronic one.
Those of us facing stage 4 cancer have a lot to share with others. For instance, it’s too easy to take life for granted. This disease has taught me to slow down and appreciate the little things we miss on a daily basis. I’m living this crazy nightmare, and I find that I am really blessed. This disease has shown me the good in others and brought me closer to the people in my life – it’s made me realize how lucky and fortunate I am. I’m still able to live my life with my husband and be an active mother in my children’s lives.
And, I learned just how strong I am. After my early stage treatments and surgeries, I walked away empowered, feeling like superwoman. When we found cancer the second time, I found that same strength and resilience. People often thank me for speaking out about this disease and tell me I inspire them. But I believe everyone has that capability. You are this strong too – you just don’t realize it.
While I didn’t choose to start this second chapter, I continue to move forward against metastatic breast cancer alongside the hardworking researchers and my fellow patients. I am thankful for the clinical oncologists around the world as they give so much of themselves to fight for us and are continuing to make strides in research. My hope is that the final page of this book will end with a cure, but as we wait for that day to come, my hope is that we will continue to find better options for cancer patients to live longer and better quality lives.