This post originally appeared on Critical Mass as part of the 2015 National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week.
By Beth Fairchild
My name is Beth Fairchild. In my former life, I was an artist, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend. Now, while I may still be all of these, I have added fearless fighter and breast cancer advocate to the list of things that make me, me. This is my new, cancer life.
A year ago my life was pretty normal. My husband and I were successful business owners. We were raising our daughter and preparing to adopt another. I was happy in my personal life and career, I worked out daily and ate healthy. Then, there it was: cancer.
After months of complaining of intestinal discomfort and lack of energy, my doctors discovered my ovaries were the size of grapefruits and in danger of rupture. They had to come out and, because I had a family history (my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at 44 and my paternal grandmother was dead and buried at 33), I decided on a total hysterectomy. My surgery was the day after Mother’s Day. Tissue samples were sent off to pathology, and two days later, I was told I had breast cancer.
No one ever wants to hear the “C” word. Ever. But I was diagnosed with stage IV lobular carcinoma with metastases to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, the top portion of my vagina, the omentum, and in the fluid surrounding all of these things. While I’m no doctor, I knew stage IV wasn’t good. I was told there were treatments available, but no cure, and even with treatments, someone like me, statistically speaking, would live about two years. If that’s correct, I have about 12 months of life left to live.
After my diagnosis, I came home to die. I was in agony from the pain of surgery and my head was spinning. I couldn’t see past that moment in time. But it got better. Every. Day. My body healed. I got stronger. I endured 18 weeks of chemo and survived! I was a 34-year-old, post-menopausal, bald-headed, terminal cancer patient, but I was alive and LIVING. I set out to take back control of my life.
I’m a driven woman, motivated by purpose. If I have a goal to work toward, I can dig deep and find success. My children were my first motivation. I saw the fear in their eyes. Mommy couldn’t assure them things would be ok, but I could show them I wasn’t going to give up. I talked candidly with them about my condition and treatment. I got up every morning and took them to school, even the days I didn’t feel like it. I was a mom first, and they kept me going.
My job kept me going. I’m an artist. I make tattoos. My husband and I have five studios and I have made my career in the tattoo industry. My specialty is permanent cosmetics and areola restoration for breast cancer patients. Ironic, huh? On the days I had to see my breast cancer clients, I knew what the procedure meant to them, so I would leave chemo and go straight to the studio and help a woman feel whole again. It was therapy to me.
Then, I found support groups. I had wanted to talk to and be with other women like me. There were several groups available in my town in North Carolina; however, I was the youngest person there by at least 20 or 30 years. I’m in no way minimizing the severity of cancer in older patients, but it was hard to hear others speak about not seeing their grandkids grow into adults when I felt like I wouldn’t even see my daughter graduate from high school.
Then, through Facebook, I was introduced to the online support group Young Survival Coalition for women in all stages of breast cancer diagnosed at age 40 or younger. From there, I found a metastatic 40-and-under group and breathed a sigh of relief. They GOT me.
When I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, I was in the prime of my life. Cancer is a daily struggle in any season of life, but the under-40 demographic has to not only juggle surgeries and treatments, but oftentimes careers, new marriages, or maybe dating. Many have young kids already, but some women will never experience childbirth because their ovaries are suppressed from hormonal treatments or, like me, have had them removed in order to slow the cancer’s progress.
Realizing the sacrifices these ladies, as well as myself, made, the lack of awareness about metastatic cancer was disturbing. I thought my condition was rare, but, turns out, not so much. There are more than 300 of us (and counting) in our online community, and thousands more across America and the rest of the world. I have grown to love these women, and I had to do something. Advocacy became another way to show my girls that you can push on, even against all odds.
Through local events and social media, I have tried to help spread the under-reported message of metastatic breast cancer. I started a social media movement on Facebook called Stomp Out BC using the hashtag #dontignorestageiv created by METAvivor. I plan to work alongside METAvivor to raise funds for and draw attention to metastatic breast cancer until my dying breath.
No one can say for sure when my time will be up, or even for certain that this thief of life we call cancer will be the cause, but short of a miracle—and I do still believe in miracles—I will die with this cancer in my body. But that does not mean the cancer will have won. I will not allow cancer to beat me, because even in my death, there will be life and hope.
The legacy I leave behind will live on in the way I live now, the life lessons I teach my children, my advocacy work, and the words I share here and in other forums and groups. If I can enlighten another, be of service to someone in need, move someone to see a doctor, or help save just one person, then I will have served a greater good.