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.