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Judit is a paediatric nurse who was diagnosed with mBC in her late twenties. She wants to increase awareness about the deadly nature of mBC and the need for more research to improve outcomes for patients.

This is Judit’s story.

Diagnosis: I was 26 years old when I felt a lump while doing a self-exam. Being so young, I really didn’t assume it was anything. I was living a really busy life; there was work, I was planning on getting married. I literally took my health for granted, so I was thinking, ‘oh it’s nothing – probably a cyst – I’ll get to it when I get to it.’ Months went by and after visiting a doctor, I found out it was breast cancer. At that point I went through all the standard treatments you go through for early-stage breast cancer, which is what most people think of as the ‘curable’ form of cancer.

About two and a half years later, I was back at work as a paediatric nurse at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and I started getting pain in my sternum. As a nurse, I self-diagnosed that I probably had costochondritis (chest wall pain and inflammation), so thought I’d go to a walk-in clinic and get some anti-inflammatories. I think in the back of my mind I knew it could be something more sinister, but you never want your mind to go there. My husband and I wanted to have children and I just didn’t want to expect that cancer was once again going to derail my life.

It was one of my friends at work, another nurse, who said, ‘why don’t you just email your oncologist?’ I emailed him, and he called me back not too concerned because everything looked good on my last scan. At this point, I had vacation plans and was scheduled to leave the country the next day. However, by the time I had returned home from work I realized I had a bunch of missed messages on my phone from the hospital.

My oncologist wanted me to get a bone scan, wanted me to get blood work… but why? After my email, he had gone back to review my scans and found almost four and a half centimetres of cancer in my sternum.

After that, I went through all the tests and sure enough, it had spread to my spine and hips. It was such a shock. My husband and I walked out, sat in the car, and cried. We felt our future was over. Everything we planned for, what we thought was possible, seemed not possible anymore. I had to figure out where my life was going from here, because the person I envisioned myself being was no longer who I was.

Treatment: I started treatments and then four months later I got the diagnosis: brain metastasis.

Most people don’t understand that mBC is like having a deadline on your life. For instance, I’ve been on oral chemotherapy for two years. With oral chemotherapy, you look healthy, so you get comments like, ‘but you look so good and you’re doing so well,’ and I think, ‘well, you don’t get it.’ I still have to deal with the disease every single day. I can put a smile on my face but that’s not a reflection of how I feel and what’s going on inside my body.

Living with mBC: I’ve been living with metastatic breast cancer now for three years this past February. I feel incredibly lucky that a lot of my friends are within the healthcare community – many nurses – and the support I’ve received from them, and their understanding of the disease really helps.

I think what has surprised me the most since my diagnosis has been the public’s lack of awareness of the deadly nature of mBC. It is not the ‘good type of cancer’ to get by any means. Once cancer metastasizes, it is deadly. Period. The average life expectancy once diagnosed is only two to three years. Some get more time, and some get far less.

After watching my closest friend succumb to this disease recently, I have realized that our only chance at long-term survival is research. The metastatic community has been desperately pleading for increased research funding, but just as we scream for more research, our voices slowly silence as the disease progresses and takes hold of our lives. We NEED our healthy counterparts, the general public, to help carry our voices to reach the masses because the reality is, sadly, we are dying, and we can only do so much. Watching friends and those I love pass away from this disease has been the single most difficult aspect of living with mBC. At times I wonder; how much loss can one’s heart withstand before becoming completely broken?

Truthfully, the most important lessons I have taken away from living with mBC have been to hug a little tighter... love a little harder... laugh every chance you get... and try to find the beauty in life even on the darkest of days because there are no guarantees for tomorrow. Tomorrow is simply a dream, but today, this moment, is a given and we all have the choice to seize it if we simply choose to.

When you’re living with mBC you understand that time isn’t infinite. When I became metastatic, my husband and I both said: ‘You know what, we’re not going to save for that rainy day – we’re in a torrential downpour. We need to start doing things now and enjoy every single day.’ I think we all say that, but I don’t think we truly live that way, and we need to honour those words.
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