I’ve been living with metastatic breast cancer since late 2012.

But my journey started back in 2004, when I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. It had spread to 22 lymph nodes. I just couldn’t believe it because I was going annually for my mammogram.

shirley_05I had a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. And I was on hormone therapy for about eight years. Around the ninth year, there was evidence of something in my spine on one of my scans.

There was metastasis to bone there.

I’ve since been having scans every few months, and the last one showed progression. Now there is evidence of metastases in my spine, skull, and rib cage.

I wasn’t expecting the extent of the metastases. Even though I haven’t experienced any of the effects of bone metastases like pain or fractures, it’s still frightening. I feel like I’m living with the expectation that something worse might happen, but every day and every month that my health is stable, I thank God.shirley_12

I have faith and choose to focus on the things I can control. I take care of myself by keeping my immune system up, exercising, taking my medications, and praying. I choose to volunteer in my community instead of staying at home feeling sorry for myself.

I work on a help line for an organization that provides support for women with breast or ovarian cancer. I also volunteered as an ambassador with the Jamaican consulate to educate and support other Jamaican women, like myself, with breast cancer.

There needs to be more outreach to women of color. Sometimes, I will go to a breast cancer conference and be the only woman of color. I just hope that more black women will avail themselves of the opportunities to learn more about breast cancer.

Metastatic breast cancer affects all communities of women and we need the resources to inform ourselves and share with one another.

Despite my fears, I never ask “why me?” because there’s no answer to that question. I live with some apprehension of what could happen, but I mostly live with hope and appreciation for where I am.


Photography by Saul Palomo, Link9 Studio.