I just thought, ‘Okay, it’s more cancer. We’ll zap it or maybe I’ll have to do chemo this time around – you know, take care of it.’ I didn’t realise I was looking at a whole different ball game.
20 years ago. That was my original stage one diagnosis, but my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis was 7 years ago, just as I was coming up to retirement – an interesting experience to say the least. I didn’t understand what it all meant. I hadn’t looked into ‘metastatic breast cancer’ before then. My first oncologist advised me from the beginning: “don’t go reading ahead. You can go online, find all kinds of information. You’re not there, don’t scare yourself with silly things…” I just wish I’d been a little better informed. It’s disconcerting to know it won’t be fixed. But by Christmas of my initial diagnosis year, I was like “okay, I can do this.”
There are times I don’t even think about it – You get into a new treatment programme and your body adjusts. Tends to be a little more difficult, but I’m not complaining, I’m still mobile and I’m feeling pretty good.
After retiring from teaching the hearing impaired, I really wanted to do volunteer work. I couldn’t see myself just staying at home, I didn’t, and still don’t want to just be a fundraiser. I like the hands-on part of it. I like working with people. I’m a member of a book club, a Scrabble group, and after my diagnosis I started going to clinical Pilates with a wonderful physiotherapist. Something that made me feel physically better, and improved my strength, balance, and even my mood.
Living here in Cyprus, I’ve been very fortunate with the national health service. When my oncologist feels I need a certain med, I get it, which is amazing. But some women don’t. It’s incredibly important for all the European governments to be aware of the needs and value of those living with metastatic breast cancer. Because we DO have value. With our friends, our families, and our colleagues. And when we have access to new and better treatments, we can stay mobile longer, we can stay in the work force longer, and we can take care of our families longer. We’re worth spending money on.
When it comes to it, I want other women to have what I have, and I want everyone else to understand. I want them to see that I had all this time after my diagnosis, doing all these new things, and I’m still enjoying my life."
In 1980 my Cypriot husband and I moved back to his homeland in Cyprus after meeting in a French language class of all places. I have three sons with him, a wonderful wonderful daughter in law, and an absolutely gorgeous grandson who lives in my home country of the USA. 2003 was the year everything changed for me with my stage one cancer diagnosis, but it was in 2016 that I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
After my diagnosis, I started going to clinical Pilates run by a wonderful physiotherapist. Even though three kids and a full-time job kept me moving, I was never into a regular exercise programme. It was so so helpful, because at a time when you’re diagnosed you usually think ‘oh, it’s all downhill from here’, but I was doing something that made me physically better, improving my strength, balance, and even my mood.
I am a teacher of the hearing impaired and had worked for several years in the US, but when I moved to Cyprus I thought I’d have to give it up forever. The big problem was the spoken AND sign language differences. But by the time my children were school age, my Greek was pretty good. Then I learned the Cypriot sign language and got back into working with hearing impaired children.
I have a wonderful circle of friends here in Cyprus, and a lot of them are other foreign women married to Cypriots joining us with experiences in common. I think a perfect day would be going to the beach for a lie down on the sun beds and some swimming.
As an exchange student, I had always wanted to go to France, so after travelling there to do some studies, I took a French class. My French was actually pretty good, but for some reason I was placed in the absolute beginners group. I knew I didn’t belong, but I was too shy to tell the teacher. So, while I waited for her to realise the mistake, I ended up meeting my husband there. It appears it was all meant to be.
My friends and family would describe me as supportive and generally cheerful. Although, I’m on meds now that are making me a little bit grouchy, and my poor husband gets the brunt of that. I was also renowned for my patience, especially working with hearing impaired children, but I used to say “if you love doing something, the patience just comes”.
During my time living with MBC, I have been lucky to receive treatment from a good healthcare system in Cyprus. However I am very aware this is not the case for many other people.
What I struggle with is the lack of holistic support for me and others living with MBC – a sheer lack of time with doctors to discuss my psychological well-being, and a reluctancy from my friends and family to talk about MBC as it’s incredibly upsetting. This also extends to social media also, as I get huge responses to photos of my grandchildren, but my experience of living with MBC gets very little. Nobody wants to listen. And it leaves me feeling emotionally unsupported. While there are support groups and services out there, awareness is low. I’ve been living with breast cancer for 20 years, but it took me 19 to be connected. It shouldn’t have to take this long.
We need to be supported properly.