Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
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My New Normal-How to Live and Work and Play with Stage 4 Breast Cancer

By Melissa Beck

beck.jpgTo an average healthy person, nothing about my life looks normal. My mornings are spent questioning whether the anti-nausea medication I just took will work, or if I’ll soon be tasting my breakfast for the second time. My bones and body ache from the immune booster pod I get fitted with every other week, and my life expectancy is now a giant looming question mark that shines brighter every 3 months when I go in for scans to determine whether my cancer has grown significantly. This is my life with metastatic breast cancer.

I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer shortly after my 28th birthday, in the spring of 2016.  I wish there were more words in the English language to describe these early years of living with metastatic disease; saying “paralyzing fear” and “grueling side effects” doesn’t do it justice.

My cancer though, however serious and terrifying, does not define me. As a filmmaker, I still try to make meaningful art between weekly chemo appointments. I still try to be a good friend, wife, daughter and sister despite the chaos raging inside of my body. The uncontrolled cells that are invading my healthy organs do not mean that I am any less equipped to lead a full and meaningful life. I still go on vacations, dance at weddings, drink too much wine occasionally -- and laugh and smile and LIVE…I do all these things, just sometimes a little slower or more quietly, and with much more rest in between.

While my 2018 baseline for feeling healthy is “not puking today,” it would seem easy to say that my new normal is pretty terrible. However, this experience also comes with a lot more gratitude. It’s not linear. There are still plenty of days when I feel sorry for myself or just wallow, and honestly I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

But this life is the only one I get, so after I cry it all out and curse the universe for making this my reality, I try my best to get back to what I will call normal from now on.