Thriving with Stage IV Cancer
In September 2016, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I was immediately drawn to share my experience through blogging, posting on social media, and making videos. Five years later, I wonder why I was drawn like a moth to a candle flame to share my story so candidly with the public. I think a part of me felt the need to be heard through the challenges of cancer. The other part of me knew that being on a cancer journey can be tremendously isolating.
I wanted other cancer thrivers to know they were not alone.
A year before my fateful diagnosis, my best friend of 19 years had died at the age of 46 from acute myeloid leukemia. I was by Deb’s side for 22 months through it all, the good, bad, and ugly. I experienced the emotional rollercoaster of positive test results and the plummeting blow of disappointment when scan results showed the cancer had progressed.
This reality will challenge the most solid soul. I saw what Deb went through, and the projections of fear laid upon her. She was a walking symbol of death through the prognosis of having cancer. It was common to see friends in our community freeze up when the topic of Deb’s illness arose. As one of her main caretakers, I became acutely aware of the information I shared with others. I knew that if I were absolutely honest about the dire situation she was in, I would end up being a caretaker for others’ emotions. As my main goal was to be present for Deb, I did not have the bandwidth to take care of others.
Our death-phobic culture is challenged by any topic that revolves around death. Most people unfortunately equate cancer with death. I am not negating that people die from cancer as I have certainly witnessed many friends who have died from it.
When I was first diagnosed with stage 3 cancer, I was in the local grocery store and saw a friend I had not seen for months, since before the diagnosis. When she saw me, she immediately broke down crying in the middle of the store. I knew that the reality of me having cancer triggered a deeper fear within her. This became a common reality for me. Over time, I learned how to hold my ground, be understanding of the reflection I had for others and listen to them without taking it personally.
Part of my mission in sharing my story of journeying with stage 4 cancer is to help inspire others that cancer does not have to be a horrible experience. It is possible to thrive and grow from the experience. I am not saying it is easy, but it offers a brilliant opportunity for positive personal transformation.
The cancer journey can turn your trauma into dharma. I believe that every challenge I experience unfolds to propel me into my highest growth. Cancer has woken me up to the incredible preciousness of life. I wish I had this same awareness before that fateful day when Deb was diagnosed, which was my first initiation on the cancer path.
The other reason why I share my story so prolifically is to eradicate the terrorizing fear that circulates around the word ‘cancer’. I am passionate about the message that cancer does not have to be a death sentence. The common assumption when a patient is diagnosed is that they will die. Yes, this is a possibility and we all will die at some point. As Jim Morrison said, “No one gets out alive.” However, receiving a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean that someone will automatically die. I know many friends, including myself, who are living and thriving with stage 4 cancer.
In the spring of 2019, I had cancer in my breast, lungs, liver, spine, hip, and adrenal gland and was recommended to hospice. Two and a half years later, I am defeating the odds. The tumors continue to shrink in my body, my bones are growing back, and I have the blood of a healthy, normal person.
Patients defeat the odds all the time! I am living proof of that. There are countless stories of patients exceeding the limited death sentence of, “You have six months to live.” If you haven’t read the book, ‘Radical Remission’, I highly recommend you check it out.
Sadly, as our environment becomes increasingly more toxic, the statistics of cancer diagnoses are staggering. It is frightening how common it is for women to be diagnosed with cancer at a young age. It is more important than ever for those of us to speak out and share our experience of walking with cancer. The more we have the courage to share our stories, the more others will know they are not alone on this terrifying path. When we feel connected in a community with others, it cultivates a sense of inner peace, which in turn aids our bodies in healing.
How can you shine the diamond of your soul with your diagnosis, mine the riches of the experience, and in turn, inspire others to do the same?
Photo courtesy of author.
Tara Coyote calls herself a stage 4 cancer thriver and tells her tale in the Amazon bestseller Grace, Grit & Gratitude: A Cancer Thriver’s Journey from Hospice to Full Recovery with the Healing Power of Horses. She is the founder of Wind Horse Sanctuary in Kaua’i, Hawaii and a certified Eponaquest ‘Equine Facilitated Learning’ instructor, life coach, workshop leader, writer, and dancer. Tara is grateful to be alive and lives with two horses, one dog and a plethora of cats on her beloved tropical island!