Revisiting Chris, Part III

In 2002, Chris learned that the breast cancer that was supposed to be gone had returned and metastasized.  But time was moving along and although Chris was learning to accept her dismal prognosis, she seemed to be outpacing those survival statistics.  In April 2007, Chris’s life turned upside down again when she was awarded custody of her 15 month old grandson and her 10 week old severely disabled grandson.

Accepting her seemingly inevitable fate was no longer an option on the table; her grandsons needed her.  She has spent every day of her life since then caring for and raising them. Her youngest grandson has seven therapists and has made remarkable progress, but the days are exhausting. Because of her own illness, Chris is unable to work and has to rely on government assistance to care for herself and her family.

Her cancer is stable right now and Chris is grateful even though her life is far from easy. She currently gets injections of Faslodex and Lupron every four weeks. She won’t change until these drugs stop working. She could move on to stronger drugs, but as she says, “In my mind, I need drugs in my arsenal for the future. I don’t want to use the big guns just yet since what we have works. I NEED another decade or two to get these boys raised.”

Chris describes her treatments.

“Every 4 weeks I go for treatment. I get 2 honking big needles stuck in my hips that contain meds the consistency of sludge. After 10 years of this, I have so much scar tissue back there. We are now having a hard time finding places to stick me. Good thing I have a very large back side! Same with my arm for drawing blood –my veins are getting like gristle and only my ‘vampire’ of 10 years can do me without digging. She was on vacation this month and her replacement (and 2 of her ‘friends’) stuck me 11 times before we got it. Good thing I’m laid back huh?”


And the time between treatments.

“After treatment, for the next 10-14 days, pain spirals up until I’m in a serious amount of pain. If it’s raining or cold, I’m almost incapacitated, but I CAN’T be. I have 2 little boys, so I do the best I can. Then it winds back down. About 3 days before my next treatment, I feel almost good again, and I start the cycle again.

I have neuropathy from when I did Taxol in 94. We believe the Lupron aggravates it and the bone pain. The many years of treatment have rotted out my teeth (and that’s not covered by Medicaid or Medicare). I feel like a 67-year-old woman instead of a 47-year-old one.” [edited to add: this was in 2012.  Chris passed her 11th anniversary of being diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer last October and is closing on the big 5-0]


So why do I want you to know this story?

First of all, she’s my friend and I have great respect for what she’s done; for what she does. Is she a saint? (stop laughing, Chris and friends of Chris) Of course not. Some of the stories that didn’t make it in here would make your toes curl. And she told me the only way she makes it now is on five-hour energy drinks, which I haven’t seen listed in any cancer-busting-diet book. But she is dedicated to her family, she doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her, and she is plowing forward with life. Did I mention tough? She’s the toughest broad I know. She often jokes that after the apocalypse, only she, Keith Richards, and cockroaches will remain.

On a less personal level, I have so many questions.

About cancer: Why is she still alive?

About treatment: Is this the best we can do?

About the role of human will: Is her survival purely luck and biology, or does that incredibly stubborn nature come in to play?

About society: How can we improve our social safety net?

About politics: Are we really going cut her off, dismiss her as one of members of the so-called culture of dependency? If you knew Chris, you wouldn’t call her that. And if we knew more stories like this, would we be so quick to dismiss and judge?

About the nature of the universe: Why has this one woman been forced to endure so much?

I guess I just think you should know that she exists. More people like her probably do too — struggling on the margins of society, completely disconnected from the popular bubbly girly pink image of this marketed version breast cancer. A real human, achieving sometimes super-human things under trying conditions in sometimes unorthodox ways.

If you feel so compelled, please consider dedicating the next few weeks to helping Chris win this van to transport her grandson.  Read all about it here.