Stella Blue

My life with metastatic breast cancer.

The D word.


I’m firing a warning shot. I’m about to lay down some serious content. If you are one of my many loved ones, you may not want to read this post, or even this blog. My life is very heavy and I’m weary under the weight of it. This is the primary reason why I started Stella Blue. I can’t hold in the words any longer and I need these pages, they are crucial to my mental health. To my loved ones, please consider reading this post by Lisa Bonchek Adams, a woman I’ve come to admire through her writings on living with metastatic breast cancer, and then decide if you want to continue.

Well, you’ve had your chance. Today I’m going to talk about death. I want to get this out of the way early in the history of this site to avoid any confusion. Yes, I’m dying. There, I said it and now you know. I don’t talk about this fact with many people, in fact I can count them on one hand. Depending on how much you know about stage IV breast cancer maybe you already knew this. For those that didn’t, I apologize for being blunt. Hopefully this will avoid any awkward questions you may have considered asking me in person. On the other hand, maybe it will raise more awkward conversations, I have no way of knowing. I am not going to apologize for telling you this, but I am sorry if it makes you uncomfortable around me, though I sincerely hope it doesn’t.

No one likes to talk about cancer, and especially about dying from cancer. It’s not an easy thing to wrap your head around when you’re 34 years old, let me tell you. I have spent long days in the cesspool of my mind chewing over this fact and what it means to me, and more importantly what it means for my family. I’ll probably write more about it later, but that’s not what today’s post is about. Today I just wanted to be honest with you, to eliminate any questions that may be lingering in the back of your mind when you read my words. Stage I, II, and III breast cancers are curable, although there are many different aspects of these stages that impact prognosis and likelihood of recurrence. Stage IV is incurable, there is nothing the doctor’s can do except treat the disease in the hope of prolonging life for as long as possible. They like to use the phrases “incurable but treatable” and “chronic disease”. As the patient I can tell you that hearing those words is like being stabbed and then having the knife twisted around and around, because what they’re saying is, “you’re going to die from this someday”.

Oncologists have a difficult job. I try to remember this in order to maintain some level of empathy for them when they bring up the more formidable topics about this disease. It must be so hard to deliver this type of news to anyone, let alone a 34 year old mother of a 19 month old child. I only vaguely remember the first days after my diagnosis, and many of the words delivered to me then have been forgotten. They could not give me a prognosis so they said things like

Everybody’s different
It depends on how your body responds to chemotherapy.
and my personal favorite,
Many women live a long time.

What’s a long time? Well, according to my oncologist maybe four or five years, and sometimes even as long as ten. And what I really heard was, four years when Owen will take his first bus ride to kindergarten…ten years when he will start middle school and begin those blundering years of adolescence. And my husband — in four years we should be celebrating 10 years of marriage. Ten years from now we should be lamenting about living with a teenager soon, or panicking about having enough money to pay for our son’s college. “Is there no hope?”, I remember asking. My oncologist looked me in the eyes and replied, “Oh yes, there is always hope.” She started talking again about chemotherapy, clinical trials, platinum based drugs and PARP inhibitors, and the most elusive of all things, a cure — all of these words flew right by my head and the only thing I heard this time was hope. Hope — the thing that sustains me now, that gets me out of bed in the mornings and reminds me to brush and floss every day. The biggest little word in my vocabulary.

I’ll leave you today with a few words about hope from my favorite poet, but before I do I want to say thank you. Thank you for your lovely comments and your Facebook likes, and thank you for your quiet support. I can’t believe in just a few days there are so many of you joining me as I wade through this quagmire. Thank you for the company.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all-

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity –
It asked a crumb – of me.

10 thoughts on “The D word.

  1. Your words are so brave.
    Your sorrow is so real, the pain is unthinkable.
    Thank you for blogging.
    I hate cancer.

  2. Sometimes the ‘like’ button doesn’t seem appropriate. But thank you for this Cheri. Your strength in approaching this topic is inspiring.

  3. The L Word – we all love you. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Cheri – thank you for continuing to share your journey with all of us that love and admire you. It’s impossible to understand what you and your family are going through — thank you for your honesty.

  5. T – for tears today…until now I haven’t come to tears. Better quit now since I’m at my desk at work, sneaking to get caught up. If my boss walked in and saw me wiping my eyes he’d say, “Oh, my God! Ann, what’s wrong?” I know I could tell him and he’d probably start crying himself. That’s the kind of boss I have. But…wait! What about Marty!? I think what about Aunt Yonnie? Pap? OMG!!! and the list is endless. Yes, you warned me, I should’ve listened. I want to STOP the loss of loved ones to ‘The C Word.’ I’ve been getting calls to donate to all kinds of charities in the name of ‘The C word.’ It is having the opposite effect making me MAD at them for calling and mentioning ‘The C word.’ And now I feel really stupid because it’s our lovely Cheri, Dale’s Cheriski and Ashlei’s big sister here. I’m so happy to know you believe in ‘The H word,’ so I will remain hopefull as well.

  6. I am glad you are sharing Cheri. I think we can all feel better knowing that you are open and not closed off. Some of us know too well about chronic diseases. The only thing I can share with you is that my aunt (who was like a mother to me) had CF and she was not “supposed” to live past 8 years old. Her brothers had the same disease and died at 15 and 17. But she lived a very happy life… when she wasn’t fighting for it. When she was in her twenties she wanted to adopt but they didn’t want to give her a child because they didn’t think she would live that long. After time went on they finally gave her a baby girl and a baby boy 4 years later. She live until her youngest was a senior in high school. She was 49. That life is sooooo short. But that life was so full. I don’t know how she went through life knowing that CF would claim her but I do know she talked about it, she was open, she shared, and we all were able to celebrate her life with her as well as cry with her. I agree with your friend Lea, thank you for letting us go on this journey with you. It is impossible to understand but your honesty makes us all better people.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing with us. It means a lot to get to hear from you.

  8. I am grateful to you for being so honest and sharing your innermost thoughts with us. Your most recent post brought me to tears. I read it during the work day while I was out doing an errand so I was glad that I had the chance to read it slowly and reflect. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you to think about leaving your beautiful little boy without a mother. I have always thought that losing a child has to be the worst pain imaginable but once I saw myself through my daughter’s eyes I realized that losing a mother at a young age is just as terrible. I know you are courageous, poetic and strong. We are all surrounding you with warmth and love and compassion. All I can offer you for advice is to soak up each moment that you have and live them all to the fullest. Life is unpredictable and none of us every know what tomorrow will bring. So I guess that’s all any of us can do. My heart is full. I wish I could help you carry this burden.

  9. Cheri, here I am crying, trying to imagine for a second what it feels like to be living every mother’s, wife’s, sister’s, daughter’s nightmare. I think about you all the time. I try to imagine. Your words help make it more real for me, but I still can’t fathom it. I am glad you feel supported and loved, hopeful and determined. But I’d imagine that a lot of the time you feel alone, too. I wish we could all take just a little bit of this away from you and collectively absorb it. I wish, I wish, I wish.

  10. Cancer sucks. I am glad to see that you are strong.

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