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“When Cancer Becomes Routine” – A Guest Post by Jennifer Campisano

As most of you know, I am bound and determined to help increase awareness about metastatic breast cancer in any way I can. As part of this effort, I am pleased and excited to share a guest post this Mets Monday by Jennifer Campisano. Jennifer was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 32. In her post she shares with us about being a young mother while also balancing all that such a diagnosis brings. It’s a must read.

After you read Jen’s post, be sure to leave her a comment or ask her a question in the comments section and then head on over to her blog soon to read more of her incredible story. Thank you, Jen, for sharing some of it with us here today.                                                      

When Cancer Becomes Routine

By Jennifer Campisano

It’s tough to remember my life before cancer. More specifically, it’s tough to recall the freedom I felt, the innocence, and the security that my life was rolling along at a mostly pleasant clip. There is also a great chance I am exaggerating this idea of being carefree in my memory. It is very possible I just worried about other things, like my parents’ crumbling relationship or when my baby boy would sleep through the night. But it is also wince-inducing to remember some of the things I once worried about almost daily, including whether my body was ever going to return to its pre-pregnancy shape (not exactly, it turns out). Cancer brought more important things into sharp focus as my previous life skidded to a screeching halt.

Almost instantly after my diagnosis, I knew with absolute clarity that the end of my parents’ relationship was not about me, and not a matter I should concern myself with to any great extent. I could still have my relationship with each of them, but the tornado of their divorce and the intricacies of their financial agreements — or disagreements — was not my business, even if I was a lawyer. Cancer gave me an excuse that even having a baby five months earlier hadn’t, and I extracted myself from their unraveling.

Learning that I had Stage 4 breast cancer obliterated (for awhile, anyway) my concern about my son’s sleep habits, too. Suddenly, all that mattered was spending time with him, whether it meant I was losing sleep or not. I spent many nights rocking him gently in his nursery, crying because I could no longer nurse him and because I was scared I was going to die and leave him. I would repeat a line from one of his books over and over: “It’s time for bed, little fish, little fish. Hold your breath and make a wish.” And I would wish for just one thing.

In the beginning, my anger toward cancer was a guttural fury, catching me by surprise as I drove home from work or to my oncologist’s office, or as I organized cupboards in my bathroom and came across a piece of my wedding jewelry. My anger would erupt in obscenities and hot tears and sometimes my fists pounding on the steering wheel until I had to pull over to the side of the road or crumple in a heap on the bathroom floor. What had I done to deserve Stage 4 cancer? I wondered more than once. Nothing, is the merciful and merciless answer.

As the years have passed, I can hardly believe cancer has been such a big part of my life for this long. August will mark my three-year cancerversary, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of cancer to some extent. As I write this, I have been in remission (or showing no evidence of disease) for seven months. I have been abundantly lucky. I respond well to treatment, my cancer does not, and I am determined enough to withstand multiple rounds of chemo — to do whatever it takes, really — in order to watch my little boy grow up, in order to grow old with my husband.

The routine of cancer — the appointments, scans, blood work, chemo recovery days, even the anxiety — has become part of our daily life, like taking my son to preschool or going grocery shopping or opening our mail. It is just what we do. I chat with the nurses who’ve become my friends, I take Xanax as needed for the anxiety that surrounds my scans, and I write about my experience in the hopes that I can shed some light on this disease for others going through it — and heal myself in the process.

When the nurses at my infusion center throw confetti over another patient celebrating his last chemo session, I feel a tiny twinge of jealousy, but mostly I am thrilled for him and hopeful that the drugs have worked. When I bemoan the fact that I am so damn tired in the week after chemo, I remind myself I have a three-year-old. I don’t think I was this tired when I was working full-time, after cancer but before I went out on disability. The difference is now I get to spend my days with my incredible boy.

Some days in my post-diagnosis world are more fraught with emotion than others (cancer brings forth every emotion on the spectrum, often all in the same day), but I have lost most of my fury at this point. Now, my anger is more like a flickering candle, still within me but not all-consuming in its inferno. This anger is softer and more sustainable; it will last for the long-haul. I have hope I will, too.

Jen’s Bio

Jen is a first-time mom who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 32, when her son was just five months old. She writes about navigating the intersection of motherhood and cancer-land at www.boobyandthebeast.com. More than two years after her diagnosis, she is still in active treatment, but also actively enjoying watching her son become a little boy. She hopes she will be lucky enough to see him become a man.

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Are you balancing motherhood and a cancer diagnosis (any stage) and if so, what is your biggest challenge?

If you are stage 4, what advice do you have for others who are as well?

Do you have a question for Jen?

22 thoughts to ““When Cancer Becomes Routine” – A Guest Post by Jennifer Campisano”

  1. Thank you for writing this, Jennifer. I think this will give hope to those overwhelmed with the early days of diagnosis. Surprising as it may seem, cancer becomes a routine. As I put it, I’ve gotten the hang of cancer. ~K

    1. I hadn’t even thought of it that way, but I hope you’re right, that my story offers some hope to those newly diagnosed. Early after my diagnosis, a few Stage 4 women told me they hardly thought of their cancer anymore, except at appointments and around scans. I’m not quite there yet, but it is slowly losing its status as the 600-lb gorilla in the room.

  2. Jennifer not a day goes by that my life is still not effected by stage IV but other then the pain Iget up each morning and make the best of it. Last weekend I had my grandson over for a week and he made it even easier for me to get moving. God put that boy in my life to make me stronger and to help me each day that is why I will fight to the bitter end. God Bless you. I hear the strength in your words and know you will be watching your boy for a long time. Sending Love.

    1. Thank you, Christine. Yes, children are amazing healers. Their energy and strength and optimism is contagious. I feel certain that my son is an enormous part of why I’m doing as well as I am. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

  3. Thank you Nancy for inviting Jen to do a guest post. And thank you Jen for your wonderful writing style, which is just the right mix of sharp and soft. I commend you for shrinking that gorilla and letting the fury subside so you can give that energy to your son, husband and each day. Your son is absolutely adorable and I wish you well as you enjoy your days together. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! You hit the nail on the head: I realized I couldn’t afford to give so much energy to being angry with cancer anymore. My husband and son (and I) deserved that effort so much more.

  4. This post is so moving and honest. Thank you for sharing it with us: I’m so glad you “respond well to treatment, but the cancer does not.”
    The fury you describe sounds so familiar. And the waves of it.
    It isn’t fair, but your spirit and your quick reorganization of priorities are inspirational.
    This is profound, moving and resonates so deeply.
    Jen, thank you.

  5. So moving. I hope and pray you do see your boy grow up and grow old with your husband.
    I am thankful that my cancer came after my children were grown, but long to be around to watch my grandbaby grow up. I, too, am currently in remission, but still getting treatments to keep me there.
    I think more than most other people, we can see what a precious fragile gift that life truly is. I hope for you and your family that you continue to respond to treatment for a long time.

    1. “A fragile gift” — I love this. And I do think we cancer patients/survivors/thrivers are better informed about the fragility of life around us. I try to take that knowledge out into the world and be a kinder, more gentle person because of it. I hope I am.

    1. Maesprose, It was truly my pleasure to share Jen’s post. Her voice needs to be heard. Thank you so much for reading and taking a moment to comment.

  6. Jen,
    What an adorable little boy!! Thank you for sharing your story and reminding all of us to continue to appreciate this precious gift of life. My son was 14 when I was diagnosed and I just watched him graduate from college–a joy beyond words! Best of luck to you as you go on to see your son grow up. Your love, hope, and joy of being his mom is so evident in your writing. I plan to read more on your blog.

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