Real story: Living with incurable breast cancer
Jane's breast cancer came back, and what she learned about herself and about living life to its fullest potential is awe-inspiring. Let her story encourage you to take care of yourself and live your life to the fullest.
Jane Schwartzberg, co-author with Marcy Tolkoff Levy of the inspirational book Naked Jane Bares All, has been diagnosed with breast cancer not once, but twice. She has learned that each day is special and priceless, and her wisdom is infinite. Now that her outlook on life has changed, she’s realized that what she’s discovered can be applied to everyone.
A diagnosis and a re-diagnosis
Jane lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her husband Mickey, her daughter Ally and her son Jack. In 2000, she was talking on the phone and playing with the V-neck of her pajamas when she discovered a lump in her breast that felt like a marble. Her husband encouraged her to get it checked out, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After treatment, her doctors declared her to be free from cancer. When she heard the news, she was relieved and happy. “It felt as if the skies had cleared!” she remembers. “I was elated, thankful and felt as if I could finally exhale.” Jane happily went on with her life, giving birth to her two children and launching a technology company.
Unfortunately, many years after being declared cancer-free, she got some devastating news — it had returned, and she was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Metastatic breast cancer means that the cancer has spread beyond the breast to other organs in the body. In the U.S., most with this diagnosis develop it when cancer returns after an initial diagnosis and treatment, like Jane.
“It felt as if I had been pummeled in every part of my body and deep in my soul,” she tells us. “I was terrified and felt certain that I would never, ever live a life of joy again. I cried every day and every night for many months.”
An uncertain future
Jane, now 44, reports that her condition has stabilized, but she doesn’t know for how long. She doesn’t know what her future holds, how much time she has left or even what tomorrow will be like. She says that everyone, really, is in the same boat. “I think we’re all in the same situation, not knowing what is in store for us,” she explained. “Truly understanding that we have a sword hanging over us, as I certainly do, makes it even more important for us to fully ‘show up’ for our loved ones and lives. Living with an incurable illness is awful, depleting and sometimes depressing. But I also value my days tremendously.”
Make each day count
The past couple of years have taught Jane a lot. For example, instead of spending valuable time thinking about the past or the future, she now focuses more on the present. “I used to be a big planner and wanted to take control of so many situations,” she told us. “I know now that control is largely an illusion, and I have surrendered now much more to life.”
Jane suggests that we not take any of our days for granted, and to make each one the best it can be. Her first word of advice? Take care of yourself — impeccable care. “For some, it may mean lots of naps,” she said. “For others, a good run. For me, tons of chocolate.”
Second, she encourages keeping your heart open to the best people — and things — you have going on in your life. “Don’t spend time on people who are not rooting for you,” she explains.
And finally, she urges us to keep life in perspective. “Savor your ‘taste of terminal,’ knowing that our visit here is short,” she said.
A life lesson
Jane’s incurable breast cancer has taught her so much about herself that she is stronger now than she had ever imagined. She also learned that through her suffering, she could really reach out and help people get through a terrible time of their own, which inspired her to write the book.
She hopes that her story will reach those who need it and will inspire even those who aren’t living with incurable cancer to live life to the fullest. Focus on the good, don’t waste time on the bad and take care of yourself. It doesn’t get much better than that.