Even with regular check-ups and no family history of the disease, in 2013 I felt a tiny lump in my left breast. I had a mammogram straight away and it was then that the radiologist told me that I had cancer.
It felt like the worst moment in my life. But little did I know that it would get worse. A CT scan later revealed the full extent of my disease – massive metastases in my liver and minor lesions in my bones. I was metastasised from the beginning – de novo – as it’s called. A diagnosis that turned my life upside down. It’s hard to explain how you feel when an oncologist says you have an average survival time of 2 years.
So, I waited to die.
Then, nothing happened. So, I decided to concentrate on living. On following my passions.
And for me, that’s writing. My greatest achievement is my blog. It’s what’s keeping me going – Claudia’s Cancer Challenge. I use it to show exactly what my life is like as a metastatic breast cancer patient, and to provide information, organise events, and raise awareness for people living with metastatic breast cancer.
My blog then helped me find my ‘Meta Mates’ – a group of Austrian women living with metastatic breast cancer who meet regularly, with additional support coming from healthcare professionals and the charity Austrian Cancer Aid. Not stopping there, I designed a ‘triple pink ribbon’ to give those living with breast cancer more visibility – the three layers stand for early breast cancer, relapsed breast cancer, and then advanced breast cancer. And with the profits made from the sales, we can help metastatic breast cancer patients in emergency situations. Back when I was diagnosed, there was nothing like this for women living with metastatic breast cancer, so these achievements make me feel incredibly proud.
I think it’s my aim to help metastatic breast cancer patients find understanding, support, and service. I want to leave traces of me with what I’m doing. To be the voice and face of metastatic breast cancer, and to make the disease visible and understood by the public. I want to give them a reason to consider the value of our lives… The value those living with metastatic breast cancer still have to give.
I was 38 when I was diagnosed, and I wasn’t sure I’d see my 40th birthday. Now, I’m 47. And I’m still here on therapy, I have a stable disease, and I’m happy. There is always hope. There is always motivation. There is always the zest for life."
Peter and I settled in a nice, terraced house in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, with a little but very green courtyard garden. After getting my master’s degree in Journalism, I stayed at the university as a lecturer, before moving on to our municipality where I was responsible for media and public relations at the city council of my home town.
It was in 2008 that I married Peter; the love of my life, the best man in the world, my other half, my companion, the person who gives me courage, strength and wipes my tears away. We were free and everything was going well until I learned I had metastatic breast cancer in 2013. I was 38 when I was diagnosed, but I’m now 47 and still here. I feel very lucky.
I’ve always loved to be creative. As a huge admirer of the ladies who go to Ascot in the UK with their big hats and fascinators, I started to wear them myself for special occasions. But often I couldn’t find matching sets, so I took it upon myself to learn and create my own: arranging artificial flowers and fixing them to various headbands. It’s like a meditative occupation for me. A passion where I completely forget about my illness.
Photography is a hobby of mine, and it’s important with my blog too for Facebook and Instagram. I post daily aspects of what it’s like to live with cancer and try to portray my life as a patient, but I also use it to raise awareness, organise events, and provide a platform for people. So I need a lot of photographs.
If I could describe a perfect day, it would be to get up late, meet friends, and go for a day trip to Vienna. We’d go for a stroll, go sightseeing or shopping, or maybe a special place like a lake where we’d enjoy nature’s beauty. We’d dine together, listen to music, and play cards. A perfect and relaxed day.
I’m a free spirit and I love travelling. We’ve been to Africa, Asia, America, to name a few. You can learn so much when you travel, and it’s the best way to get to know other cultures, people, places, and that’s what I love to do. When I got ill we stopped, but now I’m fit enough to go on planes, to go wherever we want to, and that’s what I love. It’s one of my passions.
MBC is an invisible and misunderstood disease. Even within the cancer community.
Currently, visibility campaigns are designed to promote early detection or to cover early-stage breast cancer, while the media focus is always around stories that focus on the “cured”, or “remission” stories. But as important as all of this is, we are here too. People living with MBC as a chronic illness exist, but we feel forgotten, hopeless, and ignored.
This needs to change, for all of us.
Thanks to effective new medication and combination treatments, some of us are pushing survival rates to over 10 years. That means our group keeps growing, and our special situation needs attention to help those not as fortunate as myself.
I want all those living with the disease to become visible again. And the world to become more aware about what they can do to help, or how they can stand in solidarity.
We need to be seen properly.