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"I was diagnosed in 2005 with stage III breast cancer. I had no family history, and I was 39. My youngest child was 4 years old. I went through chemo and radiation and surgery in what I called my 'Year of Hell.' But I drove home from my last chemo feeling like it was finally over.

"For four years I was cancer free, working as a special education teacher and raising my family. But my oncologist had warned me that 'many' women have a recurrence, so it was in the back of my mind all that time.

"I began having nerve pains down one leg, and my general physician insisted it was 'classic sciatica,' a pinched nerve that causes exactly those symptoms. Even my oncologist was unconcerned. But I remembered reading on that 'if a pain lasts more than two weeks, get it checked out.' Well, between the insurance company balking and the doctors' lack of concern, it was six months until I received the diagnosis: the cancer had spread to my bones.

"That was 5 and 1/2 years ago. I have a new oncologist and have been through many different treatments. After my Year of Hell, I was devastated at the thought of chemo for the rest of my life. But these drugs are much easier to tolerate. I can almost feel normal.

"Only, what is normal now? Cancer touches everything I do. I can pretend to be normal, until the next scan comes up, and then it hits me again: this is my life now. Sometimes it is very lonely, because even if you have a supportive family, as I do, parts of the journey are entirely my own.

"That's where comes in. I cannot number the times when I have panicked about some symptom, posted a desperate question, and within a few hours have dozens of posts from around the world reassuring me. Women from Turkey and Israel and New Zealand and United Kingdom who are undergoing the same things I am. Women who understand ranting and fear and anger and joy. And the joy is palpable in so many posts. We all cheer when someone gets a good scan, or when someone lives to become a grandma, or when someone follows their dream to hike the Grand Canyon. We appreciate life so much more because we are aware that we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

"Stage IV breast cancer is no fun. It's hard. But so are a lot of other things in life. I have been blessed to have a decent quality of life. I got to see my youngest son graduate from elementary school and my oldest son get married. And when people ask if I'm dying, I respond, 'Yup. But I'm taking a VERY long time to do it!'"

-- raro, 5 1/2 years metastatic

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