By Adriane Fink
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. After discovering the cancer had spread to my liver within the first six weeks, it was recategorized as Stage IV even before my treatment began. Eight rounds of chemotherapy and one year later, my cancer is happily stable, and I’ve discovered my new normal: targeted therapy drug infusions every three weeks, and other injections every four and six weeks to reduce my estrogen levels, strengthen my bones and, hopefully, keep progression at bay.
Regular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), and bone scans, along with an echocardiogram to make sure my heart stays strong, have also joined this new normal. Every three months, I find myself sliding into one machine after another over the course of a day that typically leaves me hungry, short-tempered, and wishing I could have used my “sick day” from work for literally any other activity.
Whether you’re getting scans every three months, six months, yearly, or more -- for most of us, these scans bring a tremendous amount of dread. Is it back? Has it spread? What is this random pain in my hip? It’s obviously cancer and couldn’t possibly be related to that last spin class I foolishly took.
For many, the days leading up to and following the scans are paralyzing and reinforce the sense of foreboding that even if you’re one of the lucky ones who received the "all-clear" signal, you’re never really free from cancer.
For the latest round of scans, one of my sisters came to keep me company in the hospital and served as an excellent distraction on what can be an anxiety-ridden day. At one point she asked if I was apprehensive or hopeful about the results, which sparked some mixed thoughts.
You can’t really study for these tests. For the most part, your body is where your body is, and the scans only serve to highlight what currently exists. In this way, I try to have little to no expectations. Being open to the results – no matter what they are; having a very flexible attitude about the uncertainties of life seems like an essential move.
On the other hand, many wise souls have pointed out that we all have choices we can make – to get treatment every three weeks (or not). To take hormone therapy medication every morning (or not.) To let stress take over our lives (or not). To be smart about what we put in our bodies (or not). To stay physically active (or not).
In that respect, it might be more accurate to say that I have determined what outcome I hope to achieve (aka living for another 50+ years) and every choice I make is a direct result of me taking the path that might best get me there. There is a lot that is out of my control. But what I can attempt to direct, I do.
All of that and faith. Lots and lots of faith.
I can’t guess how I’ll feel if I get future test results that are less positive. I can’t guess how I’ll respond when a close friend I’ve made through this mess doesn’t come through it.
What I can do is fully live my life today – loving myself and sharing that love with those that need it around me. That’s something we all can do. And we don’t need a Stage IV diagnosis to make it happen.
Adriane Fink was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.