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The Terminal Optimist
By Marissa Holzer
Edited by Barbara Bigelow
I had always heard that breast cancer is the good kind of cancer to have. Being diagnosed with the “good kind of cancer” at age 38 only to find out it’s treatable but not curable was devastating, to say the least. I had absolutely no clue what was coming. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t even pronounce the word metastatic, nor did I know the full extent of its meaning. I, unfortunately, would all too soon learn.
I had noticed a lump several months prior. At that time, I was underinsured, frightened and naive. In my mind, I figured I was young and healthy, this will just go away on its own. I eat right, exercise, have never smoked, and am not a big drinker. I did all the right things, or so I thought. I felt fine, normal even. I hadn’t told anyone about my lump...until one day my arm swelled up and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I started out at an urgent care center where they sent me to the ER for an ultrasound to rule out a blood clot. The ER doctor took one look at me and ordered more tests in addition to the ultrasound. I wound up admitted to the hospital for the next five days with a DVT blood clot and what I knew in my heart was breast cancer. What I didn’t know and would find out that week was that it had already spread and how this would change me forever. De novo metastatic breast cancer, for which there is no cure.
As I now approach seven years living with metastatic breast cancer, not a day goes by where I don’t think about the disease, even though I’m currently stable. With every new ache or pain comes that nagging worry. Is it back? Are my medications failing me? Will there be a new treatment that will keep this beast at bay and buy me more time? How long do I have? With each blood draw, appointment and scan comes anxiety and the fear of progression. Each scar is a daily reminder of all that I’ve endured, yet it also represents hope and survival. Hope for another day and hope for another treatment on the horizon for when my current regimen fails.
Metastatic breast cancer has rocked my world. Life was going along just fine and then out of the blue a lump changed everything. I suddenly found myself thrust into a life of chemo, surgeries, radiation, scans, pills, blood draws and bills. I’m still learning after seven years to take it one day at a time. That’s all we have. That’s all we’ve ever had. I am beating the odds. I am not a statistic. I am the terminal optimist living with a terminal illness.