Stories of Hope

Confessions of an 18-year Metastatic Breast Cancer Thriver

Confessions of an 18-year Metastatic Breast Cancer Thriver

Update: Tracy recently shared an update with NBCF on how she’s doing now as a 21-year metastatic breast cancer thriver. Click to read Tracy’s follow-up, Spoiler Alert: She Lives.

Over 2 decades ago, Tracy felt a pea-sized lump in her breast. She was a new mom, living in a new city far from family and friends. A mammogram didn’t show anything, but a follow-up ultrasound revealed invasive ductal carcinoma.

Tracy’s treatment decisions revolved around her son, Trent. She determined that she couldn’t do radiation and be a full-time mom, so she opted for a mastectomy. Her mom, also a breast cancer survivor, traveled to support them and encouraged Tracy to leave the house when she could.

Three years later, Tracy began to experience back pain while pregnant with her daughter, Taylor. While the pain was severe, it was attributed to her pregnancy. But when the pain didn’t go away after delivery, Tracy visited an orthopedic surgeon.

An MRI revealed Tracy’s initial breast cancer had metastasized to her bones and spine, and later to her brain and liver. Tracy was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC).

As a 21-year survivor—18 years with MBC—Tracy has learned much about herself and her disease throughout her journey. This is what Tracy wants you to know about living with MBC.

Tracy smiling with two ponytails

Breast cancer is everywhere and touches almost everyone.

Breast cancer statistics tell us that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. It is likely you know at least one person who has been impacted by breast cancer.

Tracy’s neighbor, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after the two became acquaintances. Tracy and Amy grew closer over walks through their neighborhood. Amy then learned she also had Stage 4 breast cancer. Tracy shared how Amy joined her community of friends: “I invited her to come play Mahjong. Oddly, we have 5 breast cancer survivors playing Mahjong with us—I don’t know how that all happened, because none of us knew each other before.”

Not all breast cancer survivors are the same, and we shouldn’t treat them the same.

Because of their terminal diagnosis, many MBC patients feel like they fall into a separate category of breast cancer patients. It is important for their unique and specific fears and uncertainties to be heard and understood. Tracy shares the need and desire to distinguish between types and stages of breast cancers, as well as between cancer patients themselves.

“One lady at Bible study was pregnant when she was diagnosed with Stage 4. And everyone kept trying to hook us up. Like, ‘Oh, you need to meet Linda. You need to meet Linda.’ I just wanted, for a little bit, to be the only person in the world who had cancer. I didn’t need to hear about other people at the time. I wasn’t ready.”

Eventually, Linda and Tracy met and became friends.

“Linda was the one who got me to go to a support group. I fell in love with the leader, LeeAnne. I really fell in love with the people. LeeAnne started noticing there were so many of us with Stage 4, and we all didn’t want to talk about certain things in front of the other ladies. So, she started a Stage 4 group, and that was so awesome. We were able to talk about wanting to plan our funerals, what happens if we die, and what happens to our kids. We were able to talk about our fears. There were 10 of us in that group. We educated each other, and we supported each other.”

We all deal with cancer in different ways, and that’s okay.

The ways we process and respond to trauma, such as a breast cancer diagnosis, are different, just as we are all different. Tracy shares how each member of her family was uniquely impacted and the different ways they stepped in to help.

“My husband did a lot of laundry while I was sick, because that was something he could control, and he could do. When I was first diagnosed and had my surgery, my mom came to help. My sister came to help. My husband’s sister came to help. But when it was Stage 4, it looked different with how [my husband] dealt with it.”

Tracy continued by sharing that she and her husband don’t remember certain experiences the same way. “He didn’t realize how sick I was. When my mom came to visit, he picked her up at the airport, and she asked, ‘How’s Tracy?’ He goes, ‘Oh, she’s good.’ Meanwhile, I had been in the bed and couldn’t stop vomiting for a few days. Mom called 9-1-1 that night, and I went to the emergency room and spent a week and a half in the hospital.”

“I didn’t fault [my husband] for not seeing [how sick I was]. I think he was exactly what I needed. I don’t know if I would have fought as hard if he had been doing everything for me. He was there in every way he could be there.”

Tracy and family

Tracy also shares how her diagnosis affected her son, Trent, who was 3 at the time. “Trent had a lot of tantrums—he really struggled, because people kept coming in to take care of him. If I wasn’t home, he would fall on the floor and cry. He’d hold my hand when I was laying on the floor throwing up. He got the brunt of the cancer diagnosis.”

For Taylor, Tracy’s younger daughter, she shares: “Cancer had always been part of [Taylor’s] life. When I had the brain metastases and had brain surgery, Taylor and Trent came to visit me at the hospital. [Four-year-old] Taylor came running up to me, and she said, ‘Mommy, Mommy! Trent said they took your brain out!’ I said, ‘No, baby. They took the bad parts.’”

Tracy holding Taylor on her shoulders both wearing pink

You have to have hope.

Hope ebbs and flows—it can look different day to day, month to month, and year to year. And for those with MBC, hope may look different from those with other stages of breast cancer.

Tracy shares how her definition of hope and success changed over time. After the initial MBC diagnosis, her hope was mainly to meet small-term goals. As time went on, Tracy transitioned from striving to meet short-term goals to putting her hope in seeing long-term goals met.

“At first, I said, ‘I want to see Trent go to kindergarten.’ Then once he went to kindergarten, I was like, ‘I want to see Trent graduate from high school.’ And now I want to be a grandmother. In the beginning, you didn’t even want to plan for next week. You don’t know if you’ll feel well enough to go on vacation or be able to even have lunch with someone. So, I tried to baby-step it out like that.”

Tracy also recalls a recent conversation with someone whose breast cancer had metastasized. “She started crying when I told her my story. I’ve been Stage 4 for 18 years. People think it’s a death sentence, but it isn’t necessarily a death sentence. You have to have hope.”

“And I struggle with saying ‘you have to have hope,’ because there were times when I didn’t have hope. I mean that you have to reach out to people. You have to find people in your life that give you hope—and gravitate to them.”

Just like other breast cancer types and stages, experience and overall prognosis with metastatic breast cancer (MBC)  are unique to each individual. To learn more about Stage 4 breast cancer, click here.

National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to getting you the help you deserve.

Publish Date: September 14, 2022

26 Comments

  1. My mom was recently diagnosed with MBC, would Tracey mind sharing her doctor’s information. I’m currently looking for a doctor who can provide her with a second opinion on treatment.

  2. Was diagnosed with recurrence on 2/6 after 11 years of being cancer free. It’s in my liver, lungs and bones. Would also love to know what treatment she is on. I started Ibrance & Fluvestrant last week. Anyone wanting to reach out, please do! 🙂

    • I just have a couple questions Abby when you found out you had cancer did you change any of your lifestyle? Did you start eating differently? We just found out my mom has metastasis cancer was in her lungs that has spread to her brain. We are trying everything we can and we know cancers are number one killer but just curious I heard of different things and different people living different amounts of time. And just having different outcomes in general. Thank you so much for your time

  3. I was diagnosed with stage 1 idc breast cancer in 2020 and MBC in February 2023. It has spread to my lung, chest wall, multiple bones. I’d like to know what treatment she’s had to help her survive 18 years.

    • Curious of the treatment as well. I am Sheila and I have recurrence. Now metastatic breast ca that has spread to lung and liver right flank and abdomen

      • I am Sheila and I now have metastatic breast ca in the same places as yourself including the liver. Searching for success stories. May God bless you and me with a miracle. Regards,

  4. My wife was diagnosed with IDC last Friday 6/9/23. The lymph nodes that were tested had cancer in them as well. We go next Wednesday for our initial consultation and to see what’s next. We are praying that the scan will show none of it got past the nodes. This is a nightmare. I wish they could come up with a cure for this stuff.

  5. Wow, she is amazing and gives me some hope. My wife had BC stage 1 and had a mastectomy 5 years ago. It just came back and it is in the bone and some lymph nodes around where her breast was removed. She is 46, healthy otherwise and you hear horrible statistics. What was the exact MBC that she had? I know when it is in just one thing like the bone it can respond better to tx. Anyway this article gave me good feels since I have been in deep depression for the last week and just want to be able to support my wife through this joirney. And my kids.

  6. What a great survivor testimony! As a person with the same diagnostic, the hardest thing is the fatality of everything… it’s so hard to plan life when people consider you almost dead! Reading this was the best mother’s day gift from me to me 😊🙏❤️

  7. Hello, after having breast cancer in 2009, being cancer free for 12 years, it came back and was mestatic in my bone.
    I would love to find a support group in Alabama

    • Was diagnosed with recurrence on 2/6 after 11 years of being cancer free. It’s in my liver, lungs and bones. Would also love to know what treatment she is on. I started Ibrance & Fluvestrant last week. Anyone wanting to reach out, please do! 🙂

    • Hi Melanie. My mom has MBC. She was first diagnosed in 2019, had surgery, etc. Everything seemed to be going well, and then it came back last fall. I would love for her to talk with you, to have someone to talk to. We live in North Alabama. Are you close to us?

  8. Hi Lisa, although Tracy and her family have moved, we still connect through virtual support group meetings. She remains good friends with women met through in-person support group meetings and continues to offer support and encouragement to those around her. We’re inspired by the way she leads with hope!

    • I’m stage 1V estrogen receptor positive, but have survived 23 years since primary diagnosis in 2000 and 18 years since metastatic diagnosis in 2005. My oncologist doesn’t know why.

      • My Mother, 77 years old now, was diagnosed with breast cancer 15 years ago. She had a double mastectomy and then supposedly was in remission. 6 years ago we found out that it had metastasized and went to her bones. It went to her skull, collarbone, rib, elbow and all over her spine. Her doctor thought it was best to do chemo and radiation. Well, that only worked for so long. Once her tumor markers started going up again they put her on these “lifetime” pills. Meaning, she would have to take them for the rest of her life. Then, that only worked for so long. They changed her mediation so many times and her body was just building up immunities to all of it. A couple weeks ago a cat scan showed that one of the tumors on her skull had started growing at a rapid rate, pressing on the part of the brain that controls speech and cognitive function. She decided that she wanted to try surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. We did and she is currently sitting in a hospital bed with a huge incision on her head and is recovering. The surgery screwed up her speech and she has to relearn how to talk and speak all over again. She recognizes her family and she’ll repeat things you say to her but that’s about it right now. The doctors say it will take about a month for her to fully recover.
        That doesn’t change the growth rate of her tumors though.
        If there are any herbal medications or other treatments that you did for your cancer then please let me know. I’ll do anything to help my mom live a longer and more comfortable life!

      • So genuinely happy for you, very inspiring to read your journey. Please could I possibly ask about your treatment? I am just about to start Ribociclib & Letrozole based in the UK. Thank you xx

        • Hi Rebecca I’ve been on Letrozole and Ribociclib for a year now and my cancer reduced and is stable. You are welcome to contact me if you want to ask anything xx

      • Hi Karen Blunt! My name is Rachel, I was just diagnosed October 2023 with MBC to spine, ribs, and small lesion on liver. I’m 45, initial diagnosis early stage age 38. I’m so terrified all the time. Your story gives me so much hope!! I would love to hear your story and treatments u have tried that obviously worked wonders for you! I can’t bear to leave my kids, not yet, not ready. God bless you 🙏🏼🫶

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