Ever since Lisa Thompson, a mother of four, was treated for stage 0 breast cancer in 2005, she knew there was a chance that the cancer could return. But after four years of receiving the all clear from her doctors, she started to feel less fearful.
All of those worries, unfortunately, came roaring back in 2009, when her doctors discovered that she had stage 1 breast cancer. At that time, the cancer was local, meaning it hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes or other areas of her body. But still, Lisa found herself living with constant dread, wondering if the cancer had spread.
“It’s like a dark cloud hanging around over my head,” she says. “You know you can be hit with this again at any time.”
Then, in spring 2013, Lisa was diagnosed for the third time — this time with metastatic (stage 4) breast cancer, which is incurable and requires lifelong treatment. Her oncologist informed her that the cancer was now in both of her lungs.
Even though part of her thought “it was the end,” she says, she still found the strength to forge ahead, just as she’d done with her previous diagnoses. “I still had a young daughter to raise, and my other children were getting ready to go to college,” she says. “I still had plans.”
Starting Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer
Lisa started recording video messages to her children and family, telling them that she loved them and was determined to live as long as possible. She didn’t want to leave them, so she began treatment. The first treatment worked for about a year, and then she moved on to a different drug.
In addition to having to come to terms with the reality of her diagnosis, she admits that living with metastatic breast cancer has been a tough road in other ways, especially in how she views herself. “It sort of makes you dislike yourself,” she says, “because look what my body is doing to me. Look how tired I am all the time, look how old I look.”
But these lower moments are balanced with more positive ones — particularly, the knowledge that she’s played an important role in her health. “From the very beginning, I have been advocating for my own health,” says Lisa. Since her first diagnosis, she’s spent hours researching and learning all she can about this disease and the treatments that could help her live longer.
She’s also connected with others through her blog, which she started as a way to organize her thoughts and keep her family updated about her health. She learned that other people were reading her posts, too, and found them valuable.
“There was one gentleman whose wife has metastatic breast cancer, and he read it [and told his wife,] ‘Hey, she’s still here. She’s still alive. There’s still hope,’” says Lisa.
Lisa persevered, finding treatment options but at the same time accepting the reality of metastatic breast cancer. “I became more comfortable with my disease and the fact that I’m going to die of the disease,” she says.
For now, though, the treatments are working — something that has allowed her to plan for the future. “I started thinking in terms of months instead of weeks,” she says, and began to think about upcoming holidays and plan vacations.
“You really start to have hope, and that takes over all of the fear that you had,” she says.
This interview took place in February 2021.
Update: Sadly, Lisa Thompson passed away in November 2021 at the age of 57, having lived 16 years as a breast cancer survivor and thriver with determination, love, and dedication to her children.
Managing What Comes Next: Life After a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Receiving a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer can be overwhelming. While it cannot be cured yet, it can be treated. The cases can vary greatly from one person to another, but the advances in treatment can usually extend life span and improve quality of life.
If you have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, these tips can help you take more control over your diagnosis and learn about what comes next.
- Remember that you are not alone. Today, there are approximately 164,000 women in the United States living with metastatic breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
- Talk to people who know what you’re going through. It’s easier than ever to talk to people who understand firsthand what you’re experiencing. You can connect with others who have metastatic breast cancer through support groups and breast cancer advocacy organizations, such as Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. And you can check out metastatic breast cancer blogs, which offer everything from empowerment to information.
- Take the information reins and empower yourself. Learn about the latest breast cancer treatments and things you can do to stay healthy and active to make yourself as strong as possible each day.
- Be your best ally. Know that there will be days when you don’t feel well physically, mentally, or emotionally. Seek support from your family, friends, support group, or mental health professional. Be sure to also tell your doctor what you’re experiencing. Most of all, support yourself, and be kind and understanding with yourself and your thoughts and emotions — the same way you would for a good friend.