Margaret Mauran Zuccotti, M.S.Ed, is a former elementary school teacher, wife, and mother of three children. Ms. Zuccotti created "The Louise S. Mauran Book Fund" at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia to support families coping with cancer through literature. This program grew into a Facebook page called "Reading for Reassurance," or follow on Twitter @RforReassurance. She is a member of the board of Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
When my husband and I were first married, we planned special trips according to summer vacation or winter holidays and whatever our work schedules would allow. Once the children came along, school dictated whether we could get away to some place fun. When cancer struck, in the fall of 2006, my life shrunk into a week-by-week plan of simply making it to the next Tuesday. My infusion day, for seven months, fell on a Tuesday. The delightful vantage of looking months, even years, ahead shrunk down to a simple seven-day schedule.
In November of 2006, after having our third child, I was diagnosed with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer. I learned that I had several tumors on my liver and a small tumor in the bone of my eye socket. I hardly remember those early months. It seems that my life was a tired, sad blur of diapers, appointments, naps, and a harsh new reality.
Remarkably, mixed in with the misery of metastatic breast cancer, were small moments of joy and feelings of good fortune. I knew that I had good friends, but what I discovered after my diagnosis was that I had caring friends who I had never met. Friends of friends sent me get well cards. Parents of former students sent me flowers. Neighbors from my hometown reached out to let me know that they were cheering for me. I learned that the human connections were what I needed most. I relied heavily on my husband and my sisters. I relied heavily on my husband and my sisters. My life depended on my weekly infusions, but my heart depended on the cards and emails and conversations that helped to distract me from my Tuesday infusion ritual. My family and friends pulled me through the toughest times.
Within three months of my diagnosis, my tumors began to shrink. Within six months, my tumors were almost gone. My Tuesdays were getting better. A combination of paclitaxel (Taxol) and trastuzumab (Herceptin) allowed me to think about vacations again. In June of 2007, our family went on a short trip—a trip I will remember forever because it marked a turning point in my treatment. My husband and I were able to relax and enjoy new surroundings. I even allowed myself to forget that I had cancer. When we returned, my oncologist said that my tumors were gone. I was now permitted three weeks between treatments. To this day, my years are sliced into three-week allotments of time. It is a funny way to mark my calendar, but I am eternally grateful for it.
For the last eight years, I have been cancer free. I have had a complete response to my treatment. I realize how unusual my situation is for a metastatic patient, and I am ever hopeful that there will be more and more of us out there who are on maintenance therapy with No Evidence of Disease. For those just beginning this journey, I wish you luck. I hope that your friends reach out and remind you that you are special and important and loved. I hope that after the dust settles, you can plan a future that may not look like the future you imagined years ago, but a future that allows you to think about doing something wonderful with your family. I am cheering for you.