Note: Written by longtime volunteer turned NBCF staff member, Amy Kryzak
My mom, Elizabeth, is the first person I call when something of significance happens, good or bad. She’s the first person I go to for advice and is my most trusted confidant. It’s been a joy to transition from a mother-daughter relationship to a true friendship with her.
She was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at age 47. I remember literally falling to my knees and not being able to catch my breath when she told me.
At this point, our family was already coping with the heavy loss of my dad after unexpectedly passing two years earlier. It felt doubly scary to be facing my mom’s diagnosis. Her original breast cancer, ductal invasive carcinoma with lymph node metastasis, was already Stage 3b and she was given a 30% chance of survival. I felt angry at the timing and what felt like complete unfairness in what was happening.
While the initial cancer was advanced, my mom’s course of treatment followed a predictable path for many advanced breast cancer patients: chemotherapy, then surgery (a unilateral mastectomy), followed by more chemotherapy, and finally radiation. She was in active treatment for 13 months. Despite hair loss, nausea, weakness, and fatigue, my mom continued to work as a nurse during most of her treatment. She also remarried a supportive and loving man and remained active in the lives of me and my two brothers.
After 13 months of treatment, my mom completed her last radiation in November 2008.
She and her husband celebrated by ringing the bell at the facility, and looked forward to a period of rest, relaxation, and rebuilding. Recurrence was on our minds because her cancer had reached such an advanced stage by the time she was diagnosed, but once my mom passed first the 5-year anniversary and then the 10-year mark in remission, our fears and worries lessened.
I remember that life was good and filled with sweet milestones after my mom’s recovery. So many important family events and changes took place, including my wedding and the birth of my two children as well as visits, holidays, and lots of quality family time. My mom reveled in watching her grandkids grow. We just lived life to the fullest, from the mundane to the spectacular.
My mom had been experiencing lower back pain in the summer of 2019. She visited a chiropractor, physical therapist, and a few doctors before one of them checked her cancer markers.
We were all incredibly shocked when she was diagnosed again in 2019, this time with metastatic breast cancer with metastasis to her bones, a full 12 years after her initial breast cancer diagnosis.
We were confused and so deeply sad, knowing that the metastatic diagnosis is a terminal one. The familiar feelings of fear, anger, and a sense of unfairness came flooding back, with even more at stake. I remember feeling absolutely panicked and gutted. I hit my knees, out of breath…again.
My mom refers to metastatic breast cancer as a game-changer, but she tries to remain positive and live in the moment—despite the severity and unpleasantness of what she faces. She wakes up every morning thanking God for another day and literally counts her blessings.
I have learned that metastatic breast cancer can feel very isolating, especially during our current period of time. I encourage family members to stay connected as much as they safely can, reach out often, and invite their loved one to express themselves without fear of judgement or disapproval.
Metastatic breast cancer is terrible. Period. I think it’s important not to overly sugarcoat conversations and interactions with my mom, and by extension, other metastatic patients. These women deserve to be completely seen and heard, including the dark and the painful and uncomfortable feelings that come with a terminal diagnosis. But also, it is so important to celebrate the good moments, the small victories, and the life that is happening in the midst of this diagnosis.
My mom’s advice is: Live one day at a time, don’t let your mind run away with fear. Enjoy your life. Listen to your doctor, follow their orders. And get your mammogram!
If I was speaking to my mom right now, I would tell her that I love her and am so proud of her. I am amazed by her bravery and how resolutely she has faced this diagnosis—full of grace, faith, and wisdom. She is my hero.
National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. We sponsor Metastatic Breast Cancer Retreats to provide metastatic patients with renewed hope, increased knowledge, end-of-life preparations, and the reminder that they are not alone. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to getting you the help you deserve.
I am in touch with her feelings as now Stage4 metastatic in bone also. Live every day but after radiation I am so tired. Will feel better after a week the on to next step. Can be very exasperating but will not give up til last breath.
Thank you so much for sharing. I was diagnosed with MBC last year at age 43. I had just hit my 5 year anniversary for Breast Cancer remission. I love hearing others story and words of advice. I am so thankful for my doctor, Dr Russ. I have the most loving and supportive family. I have 3 daughters and a son. So I love the relationship you and your mother have. Since my daughters have become young adults we have gotten closer to where we can share and talk more. I will keep you both in my prayers and God Bless.
A very dear friend, Isobel, would say “it’s not over until the fat lady sings” I now understand what the proverb means. Every day she enjoyed the small things and laughed a lot, out loud. I’m sending a politically non-correct hug to you and your Mum. Best wishes.
Hi I’m stage 4 mbc it has traveled in my bones and organs it’s been rough because I also have lupus. I live everyday to the fullest knowing it could be my last. My faith and family has gotten me through this. I am now going into hospice which I will still be a strong warrior. And thank God for each and every day I see a sunrise.
God Bless each and everyone of my fellow survivor and warriors!
Thank you so much for sharing your story Amy. My cancer followed a similar path, I was first diagnosed in 2007 at 40, with two baby boys, aged 1 and 3 at the time. Though that initial diagnosis hit me hard due to the circumstances, (not to mention very angry at the unfairness of it all!), it was even more shocking to receive a second diagnosis the fall of 2019 after 12 years of good health. I am done with treatment, my second cancer wasn’t metastatic, but an Her2 positive one that was treated with chemo, lumpectomy, and radiation followed by a year of Herceptin. Though I’m still recovering from the side effects, I am grateful to be here and to have the time I’ve had raising my boys with my husband.
I wish you and your family and your dear mother the best of times each day. One thing I’ve learned is not to take anything or anyone for granted.
As the saying goes, “life is too short” to not spend enough time with those you love of hug them whenever you feel compelled to 😊
I hope your mom enjoys her time and is not suffering too much from the treatments keeping her alive. Please let her know that she is not alone in her journey, many of her cancer sisters are here and in the next world to help her along and give her hope, strength and most of all LOVE! I already know she’s a fortunate woman to have such a sweet daughter who supports her. Take care, both of you!