The M-Word

After meeting with my oncologists yesterday we have some answers. Not great ones. Apparently, the cancer was able to grow after so much treatment – and while I’m still receiving Herceptin – because it’s very “aggressive.” Cancers in younger women often are.  Thing is, when I was told that the lymph nodes in my neck were positive I assumed they were part of the same lymph node system as the original cancer, but this is not the case.  And this is crucial, because this means that my cancer has moved to a new site.  It has metastasized. 


The M-word.  More menacing even than its terrifying step-mother, the C-word.


I have metastatic breast cancer.  The cancer has metastasized.  Any way I try to say it or write it, it is gigantically overwhelming. C-word + M-word = so, so scary.


It means the cancer is on the move.  It travels in disguise and is sneaky and strong and knows lots of martial arts and is hell-bent on killing me, like an evil cellular-level Jason Bourne that has somehow slipped past the defensive lines of chemo and Herceptin.


Basically, at the very least, it means I can never let my guard down ever again for as long as I live.  Which is to say they have taken treating my cancer “curatively” off the table and are now talking about “prolonging my life.”


When you are 37 that sounds like a bum deal.  Probably it sounds like a bum deal at any age.  But my husband and I are still in the early years of life together and our daughter is only 3 years old.  She picks me dandelions.  She races into my arms. She mispronounces words captivatingly. She has tantrums and is extraordinarily affectionate, like a benevolent dictator. She needs me.


So you know what that means: I need to beat this thing.  It means, get out of my way, stupid metastasized cancer.


Next week I’m lined up for a bone scan and CT scans of all my organs to see, well, whatever there is to be seen.  Or not seen. Then, we attack.


I sound brave?  I’m not brave, I’m scared, but I’m not going to be bullied.


They won’t surgically remove the lymph nodes in my neck because of the risks of this kind of surgery and because they feel they can effectively deal with the affected lymph nodes through radiation.  Also because this needs to be treated systemically not just locally. We were originally told that they wouldn’t do chemo because it’s too soon following my last course of treatment, but it turns out that isn’t entirely true.  There is a possible chemo option (oh, hateful chemo!) and a very promising clinical trial option, which we’re really, reeeeally hoping I’ll qualify for and be able to start ASAP.


Scared or brave or both, I’m going to do whatever it takes.  Yesterday my friend Adam sent me a Bruce Cockburn quote: “We’re going to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”


One kick at a time.



Filed under Living with Breast Cancer

9 responses to “The M-Word

  1. geminigirl


    I have to start with this: I like your friend Adam for sending you the quote. It’s strong.

    On the subject of being brave, we can only be brave when we are completely afraid/terrified/shaking in our “footwear”. It’s easy to use the word brave in conversation, it’s much, much harder to actually be brave. You are brave. I know this because you are terrified but you are getting on with living. You are not letting cancer win by giving it the power to interfere with your living right this moment, and the next and the next…

    When I was recovering from my surgery to remove the tumor and prior to beginning chemo I remember watching “Saving Private Ryan”. There was a scene on a beach, perhaps Normandy, to which I could really relate.

    The soldier was scared out of his mind, but was trapped. He had no choice but to get on with entering Hell and trying to survive. That has stuck in my head all these years.

    I felt like that guy. I was beyond afraid. There are days (when the lumps had to be biopsied or the mammogram was suspicious and had to be repeated and repeated) when that fear comes roaring back to me and I have to fight it with all of my energy and will power.

    Kick that darkness. Kick it for each of us who has looked into it and wanted to run back to the light and innocence. Kick it for your husband, your little girl and for YOU!

    You are right. One kick at a time.

    Love, Gemini

  2. Eva Butler

    Leanne dear, the geminigirl is right, and you are right! You should never give up!I never did, what is more I do not give up at the present time either. This is my third cancer and I will undergo a serious surgery at the end of this month. And I am not young…..
    I am thinking of you and praying for you,I want to give you enough strength to fight! For your daughter , husband, parents, friends and for yourself.I am afraid too.But I want to fight, because no doctor and treament could do everything without your and my strong contribution! I hope we will succeed!!!!!
    Lots of love from Eva

  3. Melissa

    Leanne – I have been following your journey for the last few months and am overcome by the frank way you write (I made a prior comment as well). I hope that this blog can be an outlet for you. I can’t begin to imagine how terrified you and your family are. I know I don’t know you, but from reading this blog, I think that I get a good sense of your personality. You are tough, smart and determined (and, funny too). These are the weapons you need to win this fight. I have total faith you can do it. You have the armour and weapons…..get your fight on!

  4. Lisa Ewer

    Hi Leanne, I have been following your blog since my breast cancer diagnosis which was January of this year. Reading your articles has inspired me and kept me so strong through this journey. I also am a young mother to two wonderful young children so I can relate to our children still needing us. Please keep being strong and know that there are so many positive thoughts being sent your way. You are always in my thoughts and prayers everyday!

  5. Carol W.

    Leanne, I’m sooo sorry. This (more than) stinks. I wish there were more for me to say but it sounds like you’ve already got your kung-fu, Jason Bourne cancer fighting, evil bashing super heros on the job! Give ’em hell.

  6. l.

    I sometimes wonder what I’d do without this blog.

    Being able to write about this hell, in all its incarnations, helps me cut it down to size, put it in perspective, & shape it into something I can fight, instead of this shapeless mass of fear and darkness.

    And then being able to read these comments helps me so much — knowing that there are others in the “sisterhood” reading this and reaching out to me (or even just friends of the sisterhood shouting their support from the sidelines) takes me out of the sometimes unbearably isolating place in which this cancer seems to want to imprison me. My friends and family read these comments and then comment to me about the things you all say to support me — so this dialogue becomes a much bigger, stronger force than any of you may realize. And boy do I need a FORCE on my side!

    Gemini, your soldier-on-the-beach reminded me of something else: in childbirth I remember actually being able to feel my flesh tearing (yeouch I can’t stand the memory of it!) and in a moment of clarity I realized that the only way to end the unspeakable pain was to push through it – tear my flesh a little more – and deliver that baby. That was about bringing life into the world, this is about taking my life back.

    I can do this. I’m sometimes sure of that, sometimes almost but not quite sure. But it’s going to take a lot of kicking and pushing and fighting.

    Please, all of you stay with me — I need all the help I can get.

    (I will post an update tomorrow but tonight I need some rest.)

  7. julie spurr

    Oh CRAP!

    Leanne-This is not the way it was supposed to happen!

    You have been my twinkling, shining cyber-star-illuminating this crappy-ass journey I’ve been on. When I was first diagnosed, I stumbled across your blog during all those blind, numb hours spent researching this awful C thing on the internets. I found mostly stuff that terrified me and I found you…and your clear-as-bell voice that has never failed to make me smile or give some order & hope in this chaos –your words have been glowing fireflies lighting the trail. My Family & my friends have been wonderful ..but sometimes on this path, you just feel sooo alone…. those who have walked it- KNOW what it’s like….whenever things have gotten really tough for me, I’ve checked in with you and feel like I have a sister and if you could do it, I could do it too….thank you for putting yourself out there….you have helped me find my way…..

    I never in a million years dreamed this would happen to me….never ever expected that the monster would be inside me. Cancer was so not in my plans-I’ve been fighting to have my life back since last October…I may win this battle, but my innocence and my fertility have been sacrificed to the dragon. I am deeply thankful for everyday and every kindness and I know what every wish will be from here on out and now that I’ve met fear for real-I know what not be afraid of…and what to be – so I’m training and arming myself for the next battle, whenever it may come…next time I will be waiting outside the gate, sword drawn.(although let’s hope it’s more like laser blasters)

    My perception of the world has been forever altered …the bad stuff that used to only happen to other people, has now happened to me….and people all around me-some I’d never even met before-reached out and cared for me and helped me get this far….and now I understand the power of the word “survivor”& know it’s not something one does alone….and now when something bad happens to other people, it’s like it happens to me too……so this unhappy diagnosis of yours, my dear, has struck me to the core as I’m sure it has all the people in your sphere and my heart breaks with and for all of you.

    However, there is another aspect to this interconnectedness -it means that my strength, our strength, is your strength… & we all want you to win…

    Your husband your baby your family your friends and all of your sisters out here in cyberspace – we all want you to win…so rest a bit and then power up, girl & kick its ass…

    we’re all right here, backing you up…..

    Love & Peace & Strength

  8. Lisa Dunn


    I stumbled across your blog tonight while looking for information on cancer. I am 36 and was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in February – it had already spread to my bones and liver when they found it. I have two little boys and wonder every day how this could have happened. My little boys need a mom to help them grow up, and they are what inspire me to keep fighting. This is horrible news that you have received, but fight it with everything you have. You are not alone; embrace the support of others and it will help carry you forward.


  9. leanne coppen

    JULES – you’ll see in my next post how much your comment affected me — though the dragons-at-the-gate connection is only half the story. Basically I could relate to pretty much every single word you wrote. I hope everyone reads your comment. It’s the comments that make this blog a community and not just a place for me to rant and rave and share my borderline insanity. Thank-you.

    LISA — you must hear this a lot but you sound very brave. And still a little shell-shocked — and I say that as one who is still completely shell-shocked. I would like you to write another comment with more of your story if you feel comfortable doing that. What is your treatment plan, how are you managing, what kind of cancer do you have, how do you commuicate this with your boys, any tips, anything at all. You are already a ways down this road I’m about to embark on and frankly anything you can tell me about the terrain would be deeply appreciated because I’m scared as hell.

    I’m so glad I checked back for comments on earlier posts and found you two. Thank you both so much.


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