Andy shared her story in August 2019.
In early March 2017, I threw a party to say goodbye to my breasts. I lovingly named it Ta-ta to my tatas. Only using a Facebook invite and word of mouth, over 200 people joined the party to support and celebrate with me, merely a couple days prior to my double mastectomy.
After finding a pea-sized lump during a routine breast self-examination in November of 2016 and then another larger spot shortly thereafter, I was shocked by the results doctors found after a battery of tests: breast cancer.
I didn’t know what to think or how to proceed. Life before cancer was carefree and now everything was different. I decided to go on short-term leave from work in preparation for my scheduled double mastectomy.
The operation revealed that 11 of 13 lymph nodes removed were cancerous. That is not the news that the doctors were expecting, but I was prepared for anything. I just wanted and needed concrete information. There was no staging up to this point, so I didn’t know what I was facing.
I knew that 10 or more lymph nodes meant it was a later stage. “So that’s Stage 3, right?” I asked. My doctor confirmed the diagnosis. But there was still more testing that needed to be done.
Two weeks later, I received the results from my post-op scans. They revealed the cancer had metastasized to my hip and spine. Two months to the date of diagnosis I found out that I had a terminal form of breast cancer. Stage 4. Metastatic breast cancer. The first thing I asked my doctor was when I was going to die. He responded, “No time soon.” I quickly decided that I was not going back to work and that I needed to just start living.
Living my life also means fighting for my life. I’ve had over 10 surgeries, and have gone through several rounds of radiation and chemo. I get an ultrasound of my abdomen, chest and belly as well as a nuclear bone scan on a quarterly basis, simply to monitor my cancer and ensure it has not grown or popped up in any new areas.
Initially, I only planned my life in three-month increments, from scan to scan, never scheduling a trip beyond three months from the present. Five years out from receiving a breast cancer diagnosis and I am still doing my best not to let life expectancy statistics get in my way of living, but that habit took a few years to grow out of.
I don’t want to ever take news that the cancer is stable for granted. One day the cancer’s going to pop up somewhere else, and that’s ok, I can’t control that. My job is to get the most out of life, not to avoid making plans out of fear. If I keep putting things off, at some point I may be too sick to participate.
I have a positive spirit, and lots of love and support in my life. I appreciate every day and I feel like I have plenty of time, but I’m also realistic about the need to think ahead and plan. I would be lying if I didn’t depict how nervous I am that Pennsylvania will not have an aid-in-dying law when I eventually need it. I don’t want to think about the end right now, but in the absence of Pennsylvania having such a law, I don’t feel fully free to live.
Having medical aid in dying available in my home state would mean not having to worry about the end. Instead of just focusing on enjoying life, I am distracted by my concern to make the option available in the Keystone State.
Having the autonomy to go out peacefully would be such a gift. If medical aid in dying does not become an option in Pennsylvania, I have full intentions of moving to one of the 11 approved jurisdictions, such as New Jersey, which currently offers the option and is less than an hour away.
That, however, does not mean that I want to move away. Pennsylvania is my home. I shouldn’t be forced to move out of my state to live my final moments my way. After a complete loss of control to metastatic breast cancer, this is the least that can be done. Please let me live my life and have the ability not to worry about what my end will look like because I will be able to plan how I want to go out.
The Philadelphia Inquirer - This Philly woman got breast cancer, then threw her breasts a goodbye party