From Surviving to Thriving

From Surviving to Thriving

My Life with Metastatic Breast Cancer

by Melinda Morris

Before cancer, I was the director of Equal Opportunity at Charleston Air Force Base in Charleston, SC. I had retired from my active-duty career and landed my dream job. I was known for my energy, extroversion, enthusiasm, competence, and compassion. I believed I was where I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to do.

My Diagnosis

Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family. Mine was found after I went in for my first mammogram at the recommended age of forty.

I feel I’ve found my rhythm now, my “new normal.

I followed the normal five stages of grief pattern. At first, I refused to change anything in my routine and tried to control all my medical appointments so I could make my regularly scheduled meetings and keep my commitments – denial. Then came anger, along with medically induced menopause. I kept bargaining with God to give me more time. But when I began to feel more like a liability at work than a contributing member of my team, I made the heartbreaking decision to leave my dream job.

How to Support Someone with Cancer

Useful Tips from a Current Cancer Thriver 

If you want to be there for someone who is facing cancer, here is what helped me:

  • Be present, understanding, supportive, and accepting, but don’t try to “fix” the situation.
  • Include them in your plans, but be OK if they politely pass.
  • Remember that comparison is the thief of joy. Each personís diagnosis, treatment,
    and response will be different.
  • Know that cancer survivorsí feelings and abilities fluctuate during treatment.
  • Stay away if you are feeling ill. 
  • Therapy is good for all involved to help navigate this stressful time.
  • Balance taking on each day at a time with planning for the future.
  • Life will not look like it did before cancer; itís OK to grieve your old life.
  • Stay hopeful.
  • Remember that everyone is going through something ñ practice empathy and be kind.

At the aggressive rate my cancer was growing in those first months, I predicted I had fewer than sixteen months to live. So, I decided to make it as easy as possible for the people I would leave behind – acceptance. I purged many of my belongings, got my finances in order, and even wrote my own obituary. I didn’t know what future I was stepping into, and I was very emotional.

One Year Later & Still Alive

I feel I’ve found my rhythm now, my “new normal.” I live a low-stress lifestyle, and the side effects of my treatment seem to have sorted themselves out. I have an invisible disability. Other than my noticeably short haircut, I don’t look like the stereotypical person living with cancer.

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I am lucky to have excellent medical care and health insurance. I’m financially stable and have exceptional social support. I also have hope for many more tomorrows.

I miss taking life for granted but appreciate  this new perspective of  relishing the NOW.

When my diagnosis was new, my friends and family showered me with cards, flowers, and “thinking of you” gifts – I still get some in the mail to this day. They know I prefer texts or emails over phone calls. They rejoice when my cancer treatment is going well and give me grace when I’m a bit off.

I’ve returned to my artistic roots. I paint, draw, and write. I feel like my brain is only allotted a certain number of points to distribute – my artistry, faith, and creativity points are going up, where logic, numbers, and memory are going down. Sometimes I forget the numbers of my street address or the name of a person close to me even though I can describe them.

I miss taking life for granted but appreciate this new perspective of relishing the “now.” I also miss traveling. I am resigned to knowing I will say no a lot more than I will say yes to doing things. I’ve missed at least five retirement ceremonies. I’m still an extrovert, just a cautious one who needs naps. I always consider my energy and immune cycle when making plans.

What’s next? I don’t know. I can expect monthly appointments, quarterly scans, and continued treatment. I can count on the support of my family and friends. I believe God still cares for me, and that gives me peace. There are other treatment options available after this one no longer works. I’m getting better at letting go of the illusion of control and enjoying the small moments. I enjoy having the energy to be actively involved in my daughter’s life.

I now consider myself a cancer thriver.

Melinda Morris is a metastatic breast cancer survivor living in Charleston, SC.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, Spring/Summer 2023.

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