Metastatic Breast Cancer: A Mom’s Journey
We at Milwaukee Mom are proud to share our platform today with Chris Otto, an honorary survivor for this year’s Relay for Life of Hartford-Slinger. Chris learned that she had incurable stage IV breast cancer and was told she had three years to live. Since 2015, Chris has been able to stunt her tumor growth with a medication that had been newly released at the time of her diagnosis keeping her metastatic breast cancer from spreading for the last six years. Read her story in her own words below.
“I always considered myself the caregiver of our family, which includes Fred, my husband of 24 years, and our two sons William and Nicholas.
Before retirement, I worked in healthcare administration for 14 years in one of southeastern Wisconsin’s largest academic healthcare organizations. I was relatively healthy and rarely visited the doctor. However, after having some back pain, I saw my doctor, who felt a chiropractor could help. Unfortunately, months of treatments didn’t improve my symptoms, so I sought a second opinion.
After a CT scan showed an abnormality, I immediately returned to the hospital for an MRI. Later that night, the hospital called to tell me nothing was pinching my spine, so I was to meet with an oncologist the following Monday.
After waiting and worrying all weekend, my oncologist shared the devastating news, “I believe you have breast cancer that spread to your bones, and it’s incurable.” What does that mean? Nobody in my family had breast cancer. I’ve had mammograms in the past with no issues. I only had backaches.
My husband and I drove home in silence and immediately retreated to our bedroom to cry. I kept repeating, “I don’t want to die” and “I’m not ready.” My husband reassured me that we would fight, but I felt I had received a death sentence. I couldn’t stop asking myself why this was happening to us.
I became driven to understand more about my cancer, learning that “incurable” meant Stage IV and that “spread to the bones” meant it is metastatic. Of course, I experienced denial, anger, and depression. I was so worried I couldn’t sleep and felt a sense of urgency for answers.
My oncologist recommended oral chemotherapy to treat my HR+/HER2-metastatic breast cancer. Despite concerns, I put my trust in the hands of my healthcare team and followed their recommendation. Thankfully I have not had many side effects. There are days when I’m fatigued and don’t feel like getting out of bed, but I push myself, even if it’s to only go for a short walk.
Initially, I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want to talk about it. Eventually, I was able to let people in. We were very fortunate to have so many family and friends who wanted to show their support by making meals, talking to the boys about their concerns, and going to appointments with me.
For days, weeks, and months, I lived in fear–of not being here for my family. It took time for me to accept my diagnosis and learn to change my attitude. Instead of wondering “Why us?” we focus on “Why NOT us?” This new outlook was the best thing for our family.
I realize that I can’t control my metastatic breast cancer, but I am not a victim of it.
Instead of saying, “I’m dying of cancer,” I now say, “I’m living with Stage IV cancer.” I spend my time educating and helping others cope with their diagnosis and work with organizations like the American Cancer Society to raise funds for cancer research.
I’m honored to be recognized as an Honorary Survivor at the Relay For Life of Hartford-Slinger on July 16th, sponsored by Kohls. Relay For Life events raise vital funds to conduct breakthrough research, provide 24/7 support for cancer patients, and access to lifesaving screenings. I encourage you to register for a relay in your community by visiting RelayForLife.org and help finish the fight against cancer.