I’m always chuffed (as my Brit friends would say) to run into an patient essay that’s so good, I wish I’d written it – one that captures the essence of what I’ve been thinking all along but somehow haven’t quite gathered those thoughts as succinctly. Although Barbara Westfall wrote this for her blog Pilgrim125 as a woman living with Stage IV breast cancer, she tells a familiar story that spoke to me as a heart patient, too.
She writes about those magical moments when we just try to live life as if we didn’t have a life-altering medical condition, thank you very much, no matter what our diagnosis. With her kind permission, I’m sharing it with you. Thank you, Barbara!
“Yesterday I was so exhausted. Maybe it was the life-living I determined to do last weekend.
Barbara – living life!
“My hubby and I spent a few hours at the beach playing in the waves. I must have been quite the sight. My broken right foot is still velcroed into a medical sandal designed to keep me from bending my foot. My hair is gray now, and thin, and was soaking wet. My wonderful weight loss of 140 pounds is a two-year old memory, as the pounds creep back on, flamed by multiple medications which mess with my endocrine system. My three-knobbed port is very visible on my upper chest in a bathing suit.
“So for sunbathers on a lazy afternoon at the beach, my struggles to get myself beyond the breakers made for easy entertainment.
“Let me make clear: I have been diving into waves and beyond since I was a young child. I have experience gauging whether the tide is coming in or going out, and judging the moment the wave will begin to curl and break. I usually know when to go under a wave, through a wave or on top of a wave – wisdom gained from being tossed by churning water into the sand more than a few times.
“Still, I’m a bit rusty. And I move more slowly than I remember. And I’m not quite as steady on my feet.
“So I took a few tumbles as I played. In one fall, my ortho sandal unfastened, was torn from my foot, and almost went into the ocean on the receding wave.
“In another, I was sent to the sand under the water, and came up sputtering without my boogie board. As I prepared to try to stand and grab it, a young woman caught the board deposited on the shore. She waded toward me holding the board out. As I took it, she looked me in the eye and said:
“You are amazing. Just amazing!”
“At the moment, the comment didn’t register very much. I was preoccupied with not getting knocked over by a big wave again. But later, as I was resting on the sand, I felt very curious and somewhat humbled.
“Did I look too old to be boogie boarding?
“Did my foot contraption seem an insurmountable obstacle to being in the ocean?.
“Was my port visible that far away?
“Or did I just appear feeble and unsuited for a rough and cold ocean?
“I still don’t know, but I do know that I am not particularly awesome.
“I was just trying to live. Kind of like pushing on with this Stage IV breast cancer. I’m just doing the next thing on the path, trying to live. Awesomeness not required.
“My next thing on the treatment path is a PET scan next month. My new oncologist reviewed all my records and scans and is confident the new lung nodules are not the result of cancer progression, but of a lung infection. Her opinion is that the lesion in my spine remains stable and that the tiny lung metastases I had with my initial diagnosis are also stable. She thinks the new breast cancer is Hr+, PR+, Her2-, (based on the weak biopsy profile) – just like the one already being treated.
“She will be watching the slow new cancer in my breast carefully. Meanwhile, she wants to milk everything we can from the current Faslodex injections, so I will remain on that. The next line of treatment she plans will be to add Ibrance, a pretty new drug, which has been shown to extend progression-free survival when added to hormonal treatments.
“It was a long day at the cancer center Monday, after a long day at the beach Sunday afternoon, trying to live.”