'I look death in the face every day, and laugh'

Last updated 12:00 19/06/2014

How has breast cancer affected your life?

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I have stage IV breast cancer. I look like hell on paper, but look fine in person. People remark that I look great, that I don't look like I have cancer.

In January last year, I was a seven-year survivor of stage I breast cancer, supposedly with less than a 7 per cent chance of recurrence.

That February, I was told that the reason my hip hurt was because my femur was ready to shatter, as the breast cancer was back and in my bones.

I was put into hospital immediately, had a titanium pin put in my femur, and came home on crutches.

I also have cancer in my spine, a rib, and my hip.

The radiation treatments helped the pain in my spine and hip, but I have a vertebrae that is only a few millimetres thick as the cancer has eroded most of it. I am at risk of a spinal compression or fracture so I tend to baby my back quite a bit.

After the initial shock, stark terror, depression, and anguish, abated (thanks to some wonderful support) and the crutches were surrendered back to the hospital, I was left looking pretty much like I did before the diagnosis.

I actually limp less because the pin and radiation treatment helped me.

I was heavy before the diagnosis. Several months of inactivity due to crutches and my cancer medication, I'm even heavier.

The medication also has some other interesting side effects: arthritis, aching bones and joints, balance issues, a hearing loss, and hot flashes galore.

What you don't see is that I'm doing the absolute best I can. I look death in the face every day and laugh. I work full time. I do most of the things I did before the diagnosis, and have sped up my "to do" list items.

Statistically, I have a 20 to 40 per cent chance of being alive four years from now, depending on which statistics you wish to believe.

But since I beat the statistics the wrong way with the recurrence, I plan to beat them in the other direction with lifespan.

I do my best to stay pragmatic, realistic, and optimistic.

What you also don't see is how much chronic pain I deal with, how scared I am, and how lonely this disease can be.

So next time you see a fat old lady who moves slowly, occasionally perspires profusely, and sometimes walks like she's had one too many cocktails, realise that maybe she's facing more than you can imagine.

And don't be quite so quick to judge.

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