Living with Advanced Cancer

  • 30 July 2013


Advanced cancer.

I have it. Does this mean I have advanced to a new level, acing an exam to get there?


I don’t have it–yet. Does this mean graduating to the next level, making progress?

I don’t think so.

Advanced cancer is a fancy moniker for metastatic or Stage IV cancer. Progression means the cancer has grown since the last scan. We patients live from scan to scan, like a frog jumping from lily pad to lily pad, hoping not to fall into the water looming dark and murky just outside the zones of safety.  And I haven’t even touched on the financial consequences of receiving this type of diagnosis, hopping from one insurance loophole through to the next.

As a clinical trial patient, I must follow the protocol spelled out in the contract I signed. That means I must endure a bone and CT scan every three months to see if cancer has returned or progressed. It’s not a death sentence, but it’s an edge-of-your-seat kind of existence, a life-long sentence.

How does one live with this kind of uncertainty? The best one can. My morning starts by taking pain medication, the kind that is a controlled substance. Who knew I would be doing a drug to which Michael Jackson was heavily addicted. Another pain killer I take every four hours. My day ends with taking more of these high-end pain relievers as well as heart, nerve, anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, and constipation drugs. Beyond all these meds, I look for symptoms that my cancer might have returned and journal any changes. I travel four hours each way to have a treatment every three weeks.

All of this necessary medication doesn’t bring me down, and my sleep patterns have been excellent. Activities with which I try to occupy/distract myself include playing ukulele, writing, hanging out with friends, playing games, and watching TV and movies. Most of the time these work. All of the time prayer works, and for that I give thanks to all those who have lifted me up.

Maybe my life at this stage can be summarized with haiku:

Cancer’s talon grips

Longing to take hold of me

Hope stuns it senseless


Bleak rain-filled daylight

Filters through clouds gray as stone

Praying hands heal sky


Hawks winging upward

Catching draft to soar beyond

Land on outstretched arm


Hope is the key to living “the good life” with this type of cancer. Good news can be found in all the new drugs coming out of cutting-edge research, changing the way doctors view and treat advanced cancer. Good news can also be found in the plethora of resources existing for those living with breast cancer that is not curable, from treatment options to clinical trials and financial support to discussion boards and support groups.

I may not like progressing to this kind of Advanced Placement class, but I’m learning how to cope, and striving to pay it forward. We patients are never alone, and never will be.