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My Journey: Metastatic Breast Cancer series

VIvian OrtizVivian Ortiz openly shares insights gained along her path from teenager to a woman living with metastatic breast cancer. 

I didn’t realize it then, but my journey with breast cancer actually began when I was 17 years old. That was the year my mother died of cancer. It was the year I learned that my maternal side of the family carried a cancer gene. I was okay with that news because at age 17 I thought I had my whole life ahead of me, right? Looking back now I know that I was “okay” with it because I didn’t really understand nor accept how this might come into play in my own life.

But, it did come into play in my life – 10 years ago. That was when I was first diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. I wasn’t then, nor am I now, married or have children. But during my treatment, I had an amazing support group of family and close friends. Still, it was quite a battle and I remember thinking in those years, “I don’t know what I would do if the cancer came back.”

I didn’t have long to think about the question. In 2014 the cancer did come back. I was told that I had metastatic breast cancer… and I was devastated. I called my family immediately from the doctor’s office and we came together within an hour. We cried together, we prayed together. And I convinced myself that I was going to die within a few months. I left my family that evening, went home and cried myself to sleep. 

I am grateful that with the light of the next morning something changed within me. I thought and prayed long and hard about my situation. The certain defeat I felt the day before was replaced with new determination. I said to myself, “NO I am not going to let this disease take over my life.” I found my strength and made a commitment to myself and my family that I would fight this as long as I can!

Yes, I know I am going to die from this disease one day, but until then, I am going to live my life as fully as possible.

My new normal

I never really understood much about the term “the new normal.” But maybe that’s because I didn’t fully understand it until the metastatic breast cancer diagnosis threw me directly into my own “new normal.” I’ve come to understand that things just haven’t changed in my life but that my way of life is different than it was, and this is my lifetime journey.

Before metastatic breast cancer, I used to get up and have few worries. I’d go to work, travel, and continue my community volunteerism.

Now, I have many challenges and daily “must do’s” that I haven’t had before. I have to take meds and supplements. I have to be aware of what I eat, as well as be prepared for and deal with side effects.  When people say to me that I do not look like I am fighting cancer, I think to myself, “if you only knew.”

I have always been an independent person. Metastatic breast cancer has brought me to accept that I can’t do it all on my own. I accept with deep gratitude that my family members and friends also now take on the role of caretakers for me. They are truly there… going with me to doctor visits and hormone therapy sessions, holding my hand and crying with me when this journey becomes overwhelming. In all that they do for me, I realize they are not making me less independent – but instead they are giving me the strength I need to endure this disease. To all of you I say thank you… I truly appreciate you!

Mind, body,  soul and spirit

I have always been a spiritual person. I’ve always enjoyed volunteer work. And I’ve always been surrounded by good family and friends. But these things, once again, have taken on a new dimension in my “new normal”.

Thinking, praying, meditating and focusing on positive thoughts is part of my every-day spiritual journey. Participating in cancer informational events, like those offered by Susan G. Komen and Komen Philadelphia are much higher on my priority list.  While I have friends outside of my “cancer world,” I appreciate the beautiful Forever Fighters like me who have welcomed me into their world and rally behind my own journey just as I strive to be a source of strength in theirs

For all my sisters fighting this disease, and those I know who will follow, I hope that the time comes very soon when advances in research mean we are able to treat Metastatic Breast Cancer, and all cancers, as easily as we treat a cold. But until then, we all must find strength in everything around us and continue to live!

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