In Loving
Memory of Jan

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This is Jan’s story.

Diagnosis: I was first diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2003. I was told that a recurrence could happen within the first 5 years. At the 5 year mark I thought, ‘oh yay, I survived breast cancer!’ I kept going for yearly mammograms and then, surprise, something showed up on the mammogram again. The cancer had returned to the same breast. I had a mastectomy and chemo in 2009 and…then reconstructive surgery in 2010.

I’d probably heard the word metastatic before, but didn’t really know what it meant. But I never dreamed it would happen to me. It wasn’t even on my radar. I was 56 years old when I found out the cancer was metastatic. At first I was shocked and thought it was a death sentence, I really did. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something I did wrong.

A year or two after my first breast cancer diagnosis, one of my cousins was diagnosed. In 2011, my dad, who was 89 at the time, found out that he also had metastatic breast cancer, so that was a huge surprise. Then one of his sisters was also diagnosed. Last year my dad found out his cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and he was also diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia. He will be celebrating his 95th birthday soon.

Living with mBC: Recently, I went out for lunch with a friend of mine, and she says, ‘my 10-year anniversary of remission is coming up and I’m going to go and celebrate’. And I’m sitting there thinking, I’m not going to be able to say that. I tried not to let it hurt me.

It’s hard, because even though I don’t look sick, I am sick with an incurable condition that I will probably die of. When people say I look really good the question that goes through my mind is, what should a person with cancer look like? The answer is most of us just look like everyone else – healthy on the outside. I’ve never seen a definition. We’re not all bald and gaunt with black circles under our eyes. I know it seems strange to joke about stuff like this but you have to have a sense of humour when you have mBC.

I have a really positive attitude about everything. I teach a form of medical qigong, which focuses on breath visualization and movement. I use my mind to visualize that there are no cancer cells in my body and I am perfectly healthy. I remember telling a qigong master I just got this diagnosis and he said, ‘try not to let fear take over because fear affects your kidneys and worry affects your liver.’ Good advice but hard to live by. I also do tai chi and yoga and I can tell you right now I truly think both have really benefitted me. I’m trying to teach my daughters these techniques too. They’re both nurses so they appreciate the positive effects of complementary therapies.

I hope for longevity. I’m in an mBC support group and every time we go for a CT scan or bone scan – which is every 3 months – we all just kind of hold our breath until we get the results. And when everything is stable, we can breathe again…for another 3 months. At this point I’m just grateful that the chemotherapy that I’m on is preventing the cancer from progressing, that I’m not in pain and I can pretty well do anything I want to right now. But that can all change sometime in the future.
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