What I Learned from Battling Stage 4 Breast Cancer
Monica Patrick is a wife, a homeschooling-mother of four, and, most recently, a breast cancer patient. In 2013, she was told that, not only did she have breast cancer, but that it had spread into the bones of her pelvis and spine. It was Stage 4 breast cancer – the prognosis was bleak. But God was bigger. Monica’s story is nothing short of a miracle of God’s healing and grace. As we remember our loved ones who are battling or have battled breast cancer this October, we hope her journey reminds you that, with God, all things are possible!
How did you discover that you had breast cancer?
About six months before my diagnosis, I had a lymph node under my right arm that began to cause me problems. It would swell and was painful, even causing pain down my entire arm. I was never comfortable with it. Then, in July, I found a sizable lump in my right breast and I went to the doctor immediately. She sent me for an ultrasound. Honestly, the radiologist thought it was a plugged milk duct, because at the time I was nursing my 6-month-old son. My doctor was uncomfortable with that assumption so she sent me to a breast specialist who looked at the lump in my breast and the swollen lymph node and ordered a biopsy. The biopsy revealed I had triple positive breast cancer and it had spread into at least that one lymph node. A couple of weeks later, after a PET scan, it was revealed the cancer had also spread to the bones of my pelvis and spine. I was suddenly a Stage 4 breast cancer patient.
After the diagnosis, what were you most afraid of?
Quite honestly, my greatest fear was that I would die and leave behind my husband and our four young children, Susanna, who was 6, Josiah, 4, Nathaniel, 3, and Seth, who was 6 months. I have hope of eternity with Jesus because of my faith in His death on the cross for me, and His resurrection. I am not afraid to die. But, I was terrified that I would not be here to raise my kids alongside my husband. Honestly, sometimes that fear continues to haunt me.
How did you stay positive during your treatment? What was the toughest part about it?
As I mentioned earlier, my hope is in Christ. After the dreaded phone call in which my oncologist shared my diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer, I had an appointment with her and she asked my husband and me how we had such peace in light of the news she had given us. I was able to share with her that I did not believe cancer numbered my days, but that Jesus did. And, I still hold fast to this truth.
Cancer has no power in my life. I know intimately the One who breathes life into me and my trust in Him has sustained me up to this point and continues to sustain me.
The toughest part in all of this has probably been watching my family and friends walk through this with me, and my baby sister who was diagnosed with advanced, very aggressive breast cancer just weeks before my diagnosis: our husbands, our kids, our parents, our sister, nieces, nephews, those closest to us, etc. There is a burden that each of them carries as a result of this battle that I cannot completely understand, one that I do not always know how to bear with them, and it grieves my heart.
You had a miraculous healing! What happened a few months after your diagnosis?
In December, after six rounds of chemo, and antibody infusions that fight specifically the type of breast cancer I have, I had a second PET scan. The scan showed no signs of cancer in my body and additionally it showed that the bone, which had been destroyed by cancer, was growing back. Six months later in July, I had another scan – it too was clear. We were thrilled, ARE thrilled, and so, so grateful to God for His miraculous intervention in my life.
What did you learn from your battle with breast cancer? How did God reveal Himself to you?
I have learned and continue to learn so much from this journey. First, I’ve learned our God is so very faithful. His faithfulness does not always mean we end up with the life we would have chosen, but He is faithful, faithful to bring comfort in the midst of great uncertainty, faithful to bring healing, whether that be in life or death, faithful to use all things in our lives for our good and His glory. Really, I am not merely saying these things. I believe them with my whole heart and have experienced them to be true. Our God is faithful!
I have also learned that everyone has a story and it is important to let people share those stories so you are able to grieve with them, and/or rejoice with them. For some reason, a cancer diagnosis gives folks the freedom to share their stories and I’m so glad when they entrust them to me.
I do not know how to adequately share the countless ways God has revealed Himself through this. He has ministered hope to my heart through His Word, through the church, through music, through words spoken to me by complete strangers on street corners and in grocery stores and in the infusion room at Texas Oncology. He has shown His provision, as people have kept my children, brought food by our house, given us money to help with medical costs, and graced us with meaningful, purposeful gifts. He continues to reveal Himself as the One Who keeps His promises. I have a dear friend who made a plaque for me that hangs in my living room. It has Luke 1:45 on it, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” It serves as a constant reminder of the faithfulness of my Savior.
What does life look like for you now? What would you say to someone who has been newly diagnosed with cancer?
It has been just over a year since my initial diagnosis. I finished receiving chemotherapy in December, but continue to receive antibody infusions every three weeks in addition to the infusion that works to repair my bones and an oral medication. It is our new normal. I will have another scan in December, to make sure the drugs I am receiving are controlling the cancer and then six months after that, I will have another scan, and then another. There are times when I feel a new pain, or I read about a mom with young kids dying of cancer, or I peruse the Internet, and I am swept into a vortex of what-ifs and fear. I begin to think my baby is not going to remember me, or I’m not going to be the one who takes my daughter shopping for her wedding dress, or stays with her after the birth of her children, or I will not get to meet my children’s future spouses, or my grandchildren. But most days, I do laundry, cook meals, wash dishes, homeschool, and cozy the most amazing children alive and we celebrate that this is the day that the Lord has made and we rejoice in it.
For those recently diagnosed with this dreaded disease…
- First, remember there is hope. God promises He will never leave us or forsake us and in the darkness of a cancer diagnosis, we can cling to the truth of His extravagant love for us. We are not alone…
- Let people help you…let the body of Christ be the body of Christ. Oh my word, this can be so hard for folks, but when someone offers to bring you dinner, or help you with your house, or run an errand for you, let them. And, if no one offers, call on people. I have found that folks simply do not always know what to do, but they want to help.
- Surround yourself with a few faithful friends who will pray for you when the darkness seems to be too much to bear and call on them. I have a group of friends who I text, at all hours of the day and night, and within minutes they are bearing my burdens, taking me to the throne, and God has been so faithful to hear their prayers for me and answer them.
- Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to use you in the midst of this journey. There are times I have been able to pray with folks in the infusion room, people who were afraid, people who were in pain, people who needed the hope and healing that only Jesus can bring. It is so very humbling and such a sweet blessing to my heart. Let the Father use you.
- Maintain a sense of humor…it is so very important. This journey is long and it is hard, but you must choose life, you must choose joy. My son still giggles about the time he peaked in the kitchen and thought his dad was in there. Once he actually got around the corner though, he realized it was me. You see, my husband is bald and for that season, so was I. Oh, how we laughed. There are times to cry, but there are so many times to laugh, do not miss them! A joyful heart is indeed good medicine (Prov 17:22).