As her doctor crossed out the word “curable” on her chart, Katie Edick quickly processed the reality of her situation.
At the age of 40, Edick not only had triple positive breast cancer, she had late-stage metastatic cancer. It had spread from her right breast to her liver and her spine. And she likely had two to three years to live.
The initial shock quickly turned into action: she spent the next year undergoing multiple treatments and recovering from the chemotherapy drugs and crushing fatigue. In the middle of it all, she found hope and clung to it.
“I’m an exceptional responder and one of the lucky ones,” said Edick, a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan member who lives in Portland, Mich.
This October, Edick is marking her seventh year living with terminal breast cancer – and is using her time to bring hope and help to breast cancer patients undergoing journeys like hers.
Seven years ago, pain in the right side of her chest made Edick worry. She thought it was due to anxiety over a trip where she and her husband would be traveling without their two children. She brought up the issue with her primary care doctor during her annual physical, and they ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound. The appointment came just in time:
“The radiologist came in and said, ‘You have a very angry lump and I’m not letting you leave without a biopsy,’” Edick said. “So, I knew right then, that it was going to be cancer.”
As the doctors continued to scan and test, the diagnosis progressed from early-stage to late-stage cancer. From her mammogram in mid-October to rounds of treatments that started that November, the disease took a mental toll on her by the time the holidays came around.
“Initially I did not feel worthy of Christmas presents. I didn’t want presents because I was going to be dying and I didn’t want people to waste their money on me,” Edick said. “I didn’t feel worthy.”
Rounds of chemotherapy made her sick and fatigued. The disease interrupted her life with husband and two children, as well as her job as a pediatric occupational therapist with the Ionia Intermediate School District. Edick was looking for inspiration and hope.
“It was hard to find hope and find stories of young women surviving with stage IV breast cancer,” Edick said. “(Breast cancer) is portrayed as the ‘easy cancer,’ but there is nothing easy about it. It’s not this pink party: it’s hard. It’s stressful. It took a lot out of me.”
Strength through knowledge
In the face of her fears, Edick empowered herself with knowledge: She found social media communities of women who sharing their stories of living with terminal cancer. And learned as much as she could about breast cancer and available treatments.
“I just threw myself into the patient advocacy world,” Edick said. “I wanted to understand the medications I was on, what science and researchers are doing for breast cancer – providing the education so people can understand – to push research forward so maybe someday we can have a cure.”
After an initial eight rounds of chemotherapy that lasted about six months as well as additional treatments, Edick’s cancer began to stabilize. She receives scans every six months now to check the status, which are showing no evidence of active disease.
“Since the kids were little, we’ve said, ‘It’s sleeping.’ And we just keep on saying that: ‘Let it sleep.’ And just keep on doing what‘s working,” Edick said.
Now, cancer is still a part of her life, just not as dominant. She takes daily medications and has infusions and injections for maintenance drugs. Doctors are monitoring her heart as well, as some of her treatment medications may have side effects. She has some lingering issues: the neuropathy bothers her the most. But it isn’t stopping her.
This year, Edick accomplished one of her goals: watching her son Drew graduate from high school. Her next goal is to see her daughter Anna graduate from high school in two years.
Paying it forward
Edick is dedicated to helping present and future breast cancer patients. As a member of the Michigan Breast Cancer Coalition, she advocates both locally and nationally for policies and funding for studies, and works with nonprofits to support families undergoing journeys like hers.
“I think when you’re living with a terminal illness, and didn’t expect to be here after five years, you have to take that good with the bad, and I’ve learned how to balance both of them,” Edick said. “Sometimes I have to say no so I can take a break and get some good rest. Other times I say ‘yes’ to things that maybe I wouldn’t have done in the past – but now I’m like, why not?”
Edick wants newly diagnosed cancer patients to know that they’re not walking their journey alone.
“Take a deep breath and slow down. I know when it’s inside of you, you think it must be rapidly growing exponentially, but there is time to figure out the best treatment for you and your family,” Edick said. “Always question and advocate for yourself. I really believe if you have a hard time speaking up, or truly don’t understand the science nor want to, bring a friend or family member with you to help you understand it.”
Remembering the support her community leant to her during the worst days of her active treatment and recovery, Edick wants patients to know that people are there to help.
“Take help if it’s offered,” Edick said. “I think sometimes we tend to think we can do it all on our own. It takes a village to raise kids, but I also think it takes a village to live through and with cancer.”
Photo credit: Courtesy of Katie Edick.