Metastatic Breast Cancer: Now What?
Krista Curley
September 22, 2017

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Krista Curley was diagnosed 3 1/2 years ago with estrogen-receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer in her lymph system and bones at the age of 39. She had no previous diagnosis of cancer. Since her initial diagnosis, the cancer has spread further into her bones and to her liver, despite surgery, various hormonal therapies, and chemotherapy. Krista lives in Ontario, Canada and is married to Patrick, the love of her life. She is the mother of Ethan, who is 16, and Naomi, who is 10. She has a blog about living with metastatic disease called “Metastatic Breast Cancer: Now What?

Listen to the podcast to hear Krista talk about:

  • what writing the blog gives to her
  • how she and her family find joy and humor in day-to-day life
  • how she talked to her kids about metastatic disease
  • the one thing she would tell people about metastatic breast cancer

Running time: 25:20

Show Full Transcript

Jamie DePolo: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Breastcancer.org podcast. I’m Jamie DePolo, the senior editor of Breastcancer.org. Our guest today is Krista Curley. Krista was diagnosed 3 1/2 years ago with estrogen-receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer in her lymph system and her bones at the age of 39. She had no previous diagnosis of cancer. 

Since her initial diagnosis, the cancer has spread further into her bones and into her liver despite surgery, various hormonal therapies, and chemotherapy. Krista lives in Ontario, Canada and is married to Patrick, the love of her life. She is the mother of Ethan, who is 16, and Naomi, who is 10. She has a blog about living with metastatic disease called Metastatic Breast Cancer, Now What? Krista, welcome to the podcast.  

Krista Curley: Hi, Jamie. So excited to be talking with you. Thank you so much for inviting me.  

Jamie DePolo: We are so happy to have you and especially in October. We have a Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. I know a lot of people with metastatic disease have some pretty strong feelings about cancer awareness and various things. So, we can chat about those as we go on, but first I’m curious, what made you start your blog? 

Krista Curley: The blog actually started with a little push from my amazing sister Tina. She knew that I loved to write when I was younger, and she knew I had a lot to say about metastatic breast cancer and what I’d been going through. We both agreed that I also wanted to be able to connect, share, educate, and get out there, and that’s exactly what happened. And I’m very thankful for that push from my sister.  

Jamie DePolo: What does the blog give to you? I know you wanted to help other people with it, which is an amazing thing to do, and I know a lot of people do that, but I’ve also talked to people who say they get a lot back from writing a blog. 

Krista Curley: Oh, absolutely. There’s so many things I could say about what I receive from this blog, but I’ll start with the freedom of writing how I would like to write. Growing up I always had teachers comment the same, “Be more concise. You’re using words unnecessarily. This is too wordy.” And this way I’m able to be as wordy as I want and not be graded on it. So, I do like that part of it. And as my blog posts, or as my blog title, also shows that I do like to ramble, so that is very much a part of me.  

I also believe that journaling is a huge part of a person being able to express themselves, and be honest with themselves, and try to work out issues that they may be having. And so journaling is basically what I’m doing, but putting out there for others to read. And I think that it helps us purge negative things and it helps our minds and our souls. But yeah, it’s a way to be honest and raw with ourselves. And when we do it, it helps us move on, it helps us let go of certain things, and allows us to have a little bit more positivity and move forward.  

My breast cancer brings with it so many issues that helping to get it down really, I find, helps a lot. And then, the feedback that I have had from people reading my blog is probably the biggest thing that I get back from it. I’ve helped some people and connected with so many, and so as much as others may get from reading it, I get way much more just knowing that I’ve helped, and educated, and connected with so many people.  

Jamie DePolo: Oh, that’s great. Have you surprised yourself by anything you’ve written? I mean you — you talk about it being sort of a cleanse, and so you kind of put all this stuff out there. Have you ever stepped back and thought, “Oh, wow. I didn’t know I felt that?” 

Krista Curley: Absolutely. I’ve expressed myself in ways that I never thought I would have the courage to put outside. Again, the honesty is real, I hide nothing. One of the blog posts that I did was about my mastectomy, and I actually shared pictures of the scar and things like that. I’ve found myself, surprisingly, that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. And discussing certain issues can make other people feel comfortable as well. I talk about sex sometimes — I think that’s a big deal with any sort of cancer.  

And I also talk about how, while people mean well, the things that people can say to people with metastatic breast cancer such as, “You’ve just got to stay positive,” and things like that, where they come from a really good place, it can be somewhat frustrating as a cancer patient to hear. And expressing those thoughts and things. I was a little afraid to put that out there, expecting some negative feedback, but I have not gotten any negative feedback from it so I was thankful for that. 

Jamie DePolo: Well, and the other thing is, too, if nobody ever says anything about it then nobody really thinks about what they say. So, I think it’s all good.  

I have to point out that the love that exists within your family is so amazing and it comes through your blog so brightly as does your sense of humor. I particularly enjoyed when you and your husband did the “who wore it better?” with your wig after chemotherapy. I liked that a lot. You know, you’re living with metastatic disease, but you find so much joy and there’s so much love. How do you do that? I mean I know it’s not a secret because you obviously all love each other, but, I mean, you have to get down sometimes and how do you kind of like rally and keep that alive?  

Krista Curley: Oh, yeah. There are days where sometimes you don’t find the light, and you’re allowed to have those days. And I’m a big advocate for that. Feel the feeling you’re feeling, don’t hide them, and don’t have pressure from the outside make you feel guilty for being sad or sick. Because this is metastatic breast cancer, and not every day can have rainbows and unicorns. It’s the real deal. And yes, our love — thank you so much for getting that from my blog. I’m very happy to hear that. We love each other so much, and we’ve never been afraid about sharing or showing our love wherever we are.

Krista and Patrick in wig

And I think that my children and my husband — because humor has always been in our lives, we still try to incorporate that and not let that change. Because it’s a negative or a sad situation doesn’t mean we have to feel that all the time. And yes, we find as much humor as we can, and it’s wonderful. You have to laugh. You HAVE to laugh. And yeah, I think I still wore that wig better. I don’t know. He looked pretty great. He looked like Keith Urban.

Jamie DePolo: He did! I agree with you. He definitely did look like Keith Urban.

And kind of along those lines, since you do have younger children, have you developed any sort of special rituals or traditions to kind of share with them as you’re moving through this? Some of sort positive things?

Krista Curley: We have not really changed much in those aspects as a family. I think we just try to focus on acknowledging special times, not even on an everyday basis, but more so on special times that we’re here, and we’re together, and we’re happy about that. And let’s make this a really great memory and just focus on those things. But for myself, I use essential oils every day, which is something that is kind of different. And my sister actually learned some Reiki and now she gives me Reiki. So, that’s a ritual that we do together, which is phenomenal.

Jamie DePolo: That’s very nice. Now, what about the day-to-day stuff that seems to drag so many people down? You know, you’ve got chores and schoolwork, and all sorts of stuff like that. And I just think now in the bigger pictures those have to seem so small, but they’re such a source of conflict for so many people. So, how do you deal with those?

Krista Curley: Day-to-day life is hard without a disease in the way, for sure. And we work as best as we can to try to not sweat the small things. If the sink is full of dishes today, then the sink is full of dishes today, and we don’t worry so much about that. But there are days, and I’ll be honest, that it is harder sometimes. And we end up with a few arguments here and there, or discussions, where it’s out of my frustration that the disease debilitates me in some ways that I can’t do what I used to, or feel like I can’t do what I want to do. So, I get frustrated and express myself more negatively than I should.

As well as for my husband. He works so hard and then tries to do his best at home as well. So, it can be tough at times, but we definitely work together to just, yeah, let’s live our lives and not let silly things get in the way. But I’ll say the biggest difference recently, my mom used to live in the province and she recently moved back, and that has been a tremendous amount of help. I am so thankful for my mom. She brings support, love, great cooking, you know? Because even mom’s toast tastes good, right?

Jamie DePolo: Of course. So, she lives very close to you now?

Krista Curley: Yeah, it’s wonderful.

Jamie DePolo: That’s great. So, I have to ask you, too. I know your daughter Naomi made a video for your blog that was very honest and very touching, and just beautiful, talking about having a mom with metastatic disease. How did that come about? Because she’s 10, right, and she seems to be such a…

Krista Curley: Well, she just turned 10.

Jamie DePolo: Okay. She seems so wise and just kind of like an old soul. So, how did all that come about?

Krista Curley and daughter

Krista Curley: I am beyond proud of my girl. Oh my goodness, my heart just aches thinking about this whole situation. But it came about, the idea… my husband Pat had written a blog post for the blog from a husband’s perspective, which I thought was great. And then, Naomi said, “Well, I would like to do something for your blog.” And I said, “Okay. Well, we can do that.” So, one night having her bath I sat on the toilet and just asked her some questions, and said, “What’s important to you? How do you feel?” And I wrote notes and gave them to her, and then she wrote her speech. And we decided that it would be easier for her and more impactful, I think, to do a video.

And I was happy to have that perspective from her, because we don’t hear that very often about what’s happening with the children and how they’re thinking or feeling when they see their parents going through an illness and affecting their day-to-day lives. So, yeah, very happy with that and again, yeah, so proud. But it took a few tries to get the video recorded. A couple of times she did cry. She got a little bit overwhelmed with her emotions, and yes, our dog kept butting in. And she still managed to get in there at the end, but yeah. We received tremendous support from that, and it’s made her feel special, and that makes me really happy as well.

Jamie DePolo: Oh, that’s great. Now, you mentioned in your blog that you are really honest with your kids. You’re straight out. And from talking to other people, mostly women, they talk about how that was one of the hardest things they had to do. Can I ask you to share a little bit about that? How that went? How you did it? 

Krista Curley: Yeah, for sure. To be completely honest, the day that I found out that indeed it was for sure metastatic, I couldn’t even see my children. Because up until this point we had not said anything to them about what was happening until we knew exactly what we were dealing with. And I was so overcome with so much stress and sadness, I didn’t even want to see them. I had a few panic attacks and wrote things down, and both my husband and I agreed that we have to be honest. This is affecting our lives in a very serious way, and it’s not going to get any better. So, that’s what we did. 

We sat down and we all had a good conversation, and we told them about what was happening with mom and things that may come up in terms of treatments, chemotherapy, balding. And they cried, which was really heartbreaking. And we just hugged and loved each other, and just basically reiterated to them that it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. If you’re angry, if you’re sad, if you’re happy, it doesn’t matter. The feelings you have are fine. And don’t be afraid to ask questions because you’re not going to make me feel any worse. You’re not going to make daddy feel any worse. And just as long as we keep the communication open I feel like it’s easier for them to be able to handle it.

Jamie DePolo: And do you think that Naomi and Ethan are communicating with you? Are they asking questions?

Krista and Ethan

Krista Curley: Totally. And I touch in every once in a while, especially with the teenager. He’s a boy, and boys I don’t think always have a great openness when it comes to vulnerability. But the relationship I have with my son is outstanding, as far as I’m concerned, and he’s an outstanding kid. And I always touch base and say, “What’s going on? Got anything going on? What’s your thoughts, feelings? Yes, I’m annoying you as usual.” And yeah, that’s how we do it. 

And they’ve been really good at expressing themselves, Naomi as well. One time in particular, oh it was awful. She had gotten online and was watching YouTube. And I don’t know what video she saw, and I guess I wasn’t a very good mom at the time because she watched something she shouldn’t have. And she watched a video about this boy who had cancer and the treatments weren’t working, and he ended up dying. And she came to me with tears in her eyes explaining this video and explaining how she felt knowing that that was going to happen to me.  

And as a mother… sorry. How do you give yourself the moment to take a deep breath to almost lighten the situation and to make her feel better? And those times I find are the hardest when dealing with the kids. When they’re feeling the true impact of their potential loss sooner rather than later. And even as simple as watching “Say Yes to the Dress,” we totally love that show. We love watching women try on wedding dresses. Why? I don’t know. She’ll grab my hand and say, “You’re not going to be there, mom.” And I say, “Yes, but I’m going to be there in spirit. And whatever you pick, you’re going to be beautiful, and I’m so proud of you.” And those are just some of the daily things we deal with as a parent with metastatic breast cancer or any terminal disease. 

Jamie DePolo: That’s incredible, and hard, and it sounds like you make it special at the same time. I can’t even imagine.  

Krista Curley: I definitely try. We don’t know what we’re doing! We just come from a really good place and hope that we’re going in the right direction. 

Jamie DePolo: Like I said, the love that you have comes through so much, and it sounds like everything you do comes from a place of love, and I’m sure your kids feel that. 

Krista Curley: I think so, yeah. It’s a little hard with the older one. “Enough hugs and kisses, mom, today. Thank you!” 

Jamie DePolo: In your blog, too, you talked about how you hope everyone has a bucket list. And I saw that you’ve checked off making pasta, which is awesome! 

Krista Curley: Right! It was so good! 

Jamie DePolo: Are there other things on your list? Do you have some more planned?  

Krista Curley: I always have a list, but it’s hard to keep that list because money is always an issue. Honestly, we can’t just pick up and go wherever we want or do something we want at any given time. So, things have to be planned in certain ways when it comes to financial things. But then there’s a lot of things that don’t cost any money, like making pasta. I’ve tried to learn the Electric Slide, which is something I always wanted to do. I’m still working on it, but it’s fun and that costs nothing. I went kayaking. I painted a picture. I started the blog, obviously.  

Curley family

And one of the things that we were able to do was go on an amazing family trip to Disney, right? That’s on everybody’s bucket list, and that was phenomenal. I flew an airplane, which I always wanted to do. I wrote my children’s story and sent it out. And even though it was rejected, that was fine. But I did it! So, yeah, just trying different foods. I went snorkeling. I went to New Orleans with my best friend. It’s always a working list because when you have a thought come in your mind at any given time of any day, make sure you try to remember those thoughts. And write it down somewhere just so you remember that that’s something that maybe you want to do. And get it done. Regardless of a disease or not, I think everybody should be doing this. Live life, experience adventure without fear. 

Jamie DePolo: That’s excellent advice. I know I’m going to try and take in more. If you could tell people one thing about metastatic breast cancer, just one, what would you tell them? 

Krista Curley: That is such a hard question, and it stirs some responsibility in me as well, funnily. But I guess mostly I would want people to know what metastatic means. When I was diagnosed, I was diagnosed de novo, which… I was metastatic right out of the gate. But I did not know what metastatic meant. I did not know how much power that word had and how it would affect the rest of my life. And I have continually explained and re-explained for the past almost 4 years, and people still don’t quite understand it. There is no cure, and the men and the women that are living with the disease, we’re in treatment for the rest of our lives. It never stops, and it’s so hard, and we strive to live every day and cling to hope for tomorrow, and that’s what metastatic is. So, I wish people understood it more.  

Jamie DePolo: Thank you, thank you. And I have one last question for you. I very much liked your blog post about purpose. That really hit home for me. So I’m curious, what do you see your purpose as now?  

Krista Curley: That’s another good question. I do agree I love that post, and mostly because the memory that it connects to with my son. Again, my kids, just — love them! He really put things into perspective for me that day. And I won’t lie, some days my purpose is to put on actual pants. And that’s that day’s purpose. And some days we’ll wake up and we don’t know what the purpose is, and hopefully the day will reveal it at some point. Other days, the purpose was this podcast, which is totally awesome. But those are more day-to-day things. As for my purpose, just like Ethan said, was to just be myself and work on living every day, and do the best that I can as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a person. And that’s it. 

Jamie DePolo: That’s a great purpose. That’s a great purpose. Well, Krista, thank you so much for being a guest on our podcast. I’ve so enjoyed talking to you. It’s been great. 

Krista Curley: Thank you. Have an awesome day. 

Jamie DePolo: If you enjoyed listening to the Breastcancer.org podcast, please rate, review, and subscribe to it on iTunes. It helps other listeners find our content, and your support allows us to continue podcasting. Thanks.

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