Four years ago, Tricia Russo seemed to have it all going for her. Having just turned 30, she was happily married, living in Los Angeles and working a dream job in development at Walt Disney Motion Pictures. She and her husband were excitedly looking to the future, anticipating the purchase of a home and beginning a family.
Then Tricia found a lump on her breast.At her first visit to her general practitioner, she was told that no testing was needed- she was young, had no family history and no other symptoms. She went to her gynecologist for a second opinion and was told the same thing. But a few months later when she started experiencing pain in her breast that extended into her armpit, she went back to her GP and was sent for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. Tricia had Stage IIb breast cancer.
Tricia was ready to jump into treatment, but with her desire to have children one day, she first consulted with a fertility specialist about harvesting her eggs. She was advised, however, that the risk of delaying treatment was too great. She began a series of 12 chemotherapy infusions, starting with AC (Adriamycin and cyclophosphamide) chemo and ending with T-Taxol. In May of 2012, Tricia underwent a single mastectomy, which was then followed by weekly radiation.
Tricia was lucky to have a lot of support during her treatment. Her family from New Jersey rented a small studio around the corner from her place in LA, and members took turns flying out to help. She was able to continue to work, and her oncologist was conveniently located across the street from her office.
Tricia completed her treatment and couldn’t wait to move forward after one more year of hormone therapy. However, in February 2013, while visiting her family in New Jersey, she began experiencing extreme headaches. An MRI revealed a brain tumor and she was rushed into surgery. Partial radiation then followed.
Now with a Stage IV diagnosis, Tricia knew her life would never be the same. She would no longer be able to have children of her own. She made the decision to leave her stressful career and move to New Jersey to be closer to her family, while her husband remained in LA.
For a few years, Tricia worked for her family’s real estate company in New Jersey. She and her husband made the best of their bi-coastal marriage, with frequent flights back and forth as well as meeting in exciting locations like Peru, Paris and Ireland. They continued to think often about starting a family.
For a period of time in 2014, Tricia considered going against medical advice and going off of her medications so she could attempt in vitro fertilization. But before she could proceed, she experienced another recurrence in her brain and underwent gamma knife surgery. During this time, Tricia decided to start filming her journey.
Tricia has now been stable for almost two years. She is back living in LA, in a house that she and her husband recently purchased. She continues to take Tamoxifen daily and receives Lupron injections every three months. She is monitored with brain scans four times a year and a mammogram and MRI of the chest, abdomen and pelvis once a year.
In the last year, Tricia and her husband found an egg donor and a surrogate and are hopeful to make their wish for a family come true. They have also started a non-for profit organization called the Cyan Gray Hope Foundation to help fund their documentary, detailing their story through cancer and fertility challenges. Tricia is hopeful that this film will act as a resource for other women like her, one that wasn’t available to her when she was searching for information.
A dramatic change from her old 12-hour workdays, Tricia now works from home. She still does brochure work for her family business remotely, but dedicates a good portion of her day to producing her documentary. Tricia recognizes the importance of fueling her body with proper nutrition and exercise like yoga. She teaches meditation and vision boarding workshops to others. She takes time to enjoy dinners with friends and snuggling her two puppies.
Tricia advises other women with Metastatic Breast Cancer to listen to their hearts and maintain hope as they live out each day though it may not always feel easy. “Sure, fear of mortality creeps in here and there,” she says, “but I have found that if I focus on all the good in my life and the hope that I still have for my future, the fear monster goes away.”
A diagnosis of Metastatic Breast Cancer is life-altering. From big things like your career and family to the minutiae of your daily routine, you will likely find that you need to step back and re-evaluate your life. Yet as Tricia’s story so powerfully points out, even though things may change, you can still live a full and meaningful life.
Let’s take a look at some of the areas you will want to address as you create your new normal and learn how to manage your life with breast cancer.
Organize your medical affairs
- Create a calendar, whether written or electronic, to schedule both medical appointments and daily affairs.
- Set a reminder on your phone or watch for taking medications
- Set-up pharmacy auto-refills to keep prescriptions filled
- Sort your meds into a daily pill dispenser at the start of each week
As you probably know, keeping track of tests and appointments, medications, medical records, and payments can feel like a full-time job. That’s why it is important to create a system that works for you. We have mentioned before that it is a good idea to keep all of your medical records together in a folder or binder.
Some other things to consider include:
Dealing with medical bills can be another source of stress. Unfortunately, it often falls on the patient to make sure insurance claims are handled properly, so make sure you understand your coverage and review your bills carefully. When you are in the throes of treatment, this may seem overwhelming, so ask a family member or someone you trust to help with this if you need it. And if medical costs seem to be more than you can afford, please seek assistance. No one should ever have to forgo treatment because they cannot afford it.
Nurture your relationships:
It is normal for your relationships to be affected while dealing with the physical and emotional strain of metastatic breast cancer, but try to not let yourself push others away. Draw your loved ones near, share your feelings, and use them as your support. If you have children, this can feel extra challenging. As a parent, your instinct is to protect them from pain and shield them from hard times, but know that they are not immune to what is going on around them. Make sure your children know that they can express their feelings. Do your best to keep them aware of what to expect and what might change.
Fuel your body and mind:
What you put into your body is more important now than ever. Help strengthen your body during and after treatment by fueling it with a healthy diet. You can click here to find more information about providing your body with the nutrition it needs. Your mental health is just as important. From yoga to meditation, to church or support groups, find what keeps you mentally balanced and make it a priority.
Evaluate your career:
You may need to make some decisions regarding what you want to do or are capable of doing job-wise. Does your career bring you a lot of joy, or does it cause unnecessary stress? Are you able to work from home or take off on treatment days? This answer will be different for every woman, but the important lesson here is to find the proper balance. It might be time to make a change, and that is OK. Or perhaps you might find that you are already right where you want to be.
Look at the big picture:
What is most important to you in your life? What is on your bucket list? What do you still want to accomplish? You don’t have to do it all tomorrow, but start taking active steps towards it. Make the most of every day by filling it with moments to cherish. Let go of the things that are bringing you down. Celebrate your life and the lives you have touched.No one ever said living with Metastatic Breast Cancer is easy, but there are certain things you can do along the way to lighten your load. Continue to refer to the Tigerlily Foundation for support and education along the way. We are committed to being here for you.