My name is Bridget Spence. I am 27 years old and newly married. I live in Boston, MA and work in event production. I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, the only girl in my family of six. I graduated from Boston University in 2005 with a major in International Relations. I had big plans to work in DC in politics after college, but cancer changed all of those plans.
I now help plan fundraising events for nonprofits with a company called Event 360 and I volunteer with Susan G Komen for the Cure as a member of their Massachusetts Public Policy Committee and their Young Women's National Advisory Council. I also started a blog to chronicle my cancer journey that now has an international following www.mybiggirlpants.blogspot.com! I love yoga and walking. I love to cook, and actually first learned to cook when living with my parents during my chemotherapy treatments. Cooking was a wonderful way to spend quality time with my mom during a very difficult period.
I discovered a lump in my left breast in January of my senior year in college. I was 21 years old and had no family history of the disease so when I went to a nurse practitioner for my annual check-up, I was told not to worry about it. I was not sent for a mammogram, MRI or ultrasound. I was told I had a benign type of tumor called a fibro adenoma that is very common in women in their 20s. I left the office with a Latin term and what I thought was a diagnosis. It wasn't until six months later at my graduation when my mom noticed I was yellow, nauseous and sleeping 18 hours a day that she finally insisted I be sent for a mammogram.
On June 3, 2005, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. I had cancer in my breast and a 3cm tumor in my liver. I was given a 16% chance of celebrating my 30th birthday. One doctor ran his hands through his hair and said, "I don't know what to do with you."
Breast cancer is very treatable when it is caught early -- 98% of patients survive five years if they catch breast cancer in its early stages. The reality of my case is that my cancer is incurable. I will always be, and have always been, on some form of chemotherapy. It has been six years and I still go for chemo every three weeks. A drug will work for a time. For a short time in 2005, after I was on the adryomycin, cytoxin and taxol regimen that is standard therapy for patients and makes us lose our hair; we even had all visible traces of the cancer disappear. But time and time again, the cancer has figured out our drugs and figured out a work around.
I have had seven recurrences and six surgeries. I have been on 13 different drugs and been through radiation. I am constantly fighting. You name it, I've tried it! Keep it coming, I love my chemo. It is my security blanket at night. It keeps me alive. I want 80 years worth of drugs. I plan to live a long and happy life, and I am able to fit my work schedule into my appointments. I bring my computer with me to every chemo. I planned my wedding and honeymoon around my appointment schedule.
||Every once in a while, a drug will come around that will give me six months or nine months of quiet, cancer-free time. That time always makes me hope for the future. I always believe I can have that American dream.
Learning to live life in three month increments has been the most difficult part of this ordeal. I go for scans to see if the cancer has grown every three months. I literally have a three month "lease on life." Every time I've heard the words "It's back," I have to adjust my expectations, cancel plans, book surgeries or apply for clinical trials. I feel like every three months I drop off the face of the earth, and instead I want to live the life of any normal 27-year-old. I want to serve as bridesmaid in my best friend's wedding. I want to buy a house with a yard and adopt a puppy. I want to plan a future full of children with my new husband.
Every once in a while, a drug will come around that will give me six months or nine months of quiet, cancer-free time. That time always makes me hope for the future. I always believe I can have that American dream. Then when the cancer returns, I get afraid again and I have to cope with that.
After six years I've learned to set smaller goals and only look a month or two into the future. Instead of wanting to write a book, I'll make a goal to write just 10 good pages and then see where we are. Instead of wanting to go back to school for my MBA, I set a goal for just taking one class. I can't book plane tickets for a Caribbean vacation a year in advance, but I will pay the extra money and plan three months in advance. My husband and I were engaged for only six months because we were afraid to wait any longer. I'm learning to live the life that I want in the time I've been given, but it's been difficult, especially for someone my age.
I am the "worst case scenario." I heard those words no patient wants to hear. I've been told so many times to "get my affairs in order." I'm still here. I was single when I was diagnosed. Now I'm married! I'm living the life I had imagined for myself, it's just a little bit different then I imagined. Life doesn't end because of cancer, it just becomes more passionate. Even if the worst happens, even if the cancer returns, you have many years ahead of you. Live the life you had planned. If you shut yourself up at home and cancel all your plans, cancer has already won. Book that trip, just go a little sooner.
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