Maintaining a sense of humor with stage IV metastatic breast cancer

Ann Silberman of Northern California was diagnosed at age 51 in 2009.
Ann Silberman of Northern California was diagnosed at age 51 in 2009.
Posted: October 07, 2012

Through Oct. 17, Philly.com/health and The Inquirer will mark breast cancer awareness month by publishing a profile a day of transformative moments reported by patients. The series culminates in a special Philly.com/Inquirer/Daily News section on Oct. 18, and can be viewed at www.philly.com/breastcancer.

A Sept. 21 entry from Ann Silberman's blog, www.butdoctorIhatepink.com:

Home phone rings: Private number. I ignore it.

Cell rings: Blocked number. Oops, that's the sign of a doctor, not a spammer. I answer.

"Hello, I'm calling from Dr. PCP's office. We have been going through our records and noticed you are behind on your mammogram."

"Um, no, I don't think so."

"Oh? Why is that? Did you just have it?"

"No, I have Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Your records on me should be about five inches thick."

"Oh! I'm sorry! I, um, I, ugh, well, um, we'll be sure to update your records!"

Click.

Silberman has fun with her blog. She's married, but she blogged this the other day:

"Here's the way my personal ad would go:

"Are you interested in a girl who's hot? (Then cold, then hot, then cold, then hot, then cold again?) . . . If so, call me. I enjoy having my port accessed, pulling my hair out, and OxyContin. If your dream girl has one breast, no eyebrows or eyelashes, and if you love the sound of hiccups, we are a dream match."

Silberman, from Northern California, has turned her terminal disease into an instrument of honesty and humor. Her blog has had 635,000 page views in three years. It has advertising now, and readers the world over who often interact with her, making her limited time left all the richer.

When she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2009, at 51, she started the blog to inform her family and friends. She wanted to make it funny so they'd read it.

She had a mastectomy and six rounds of chemo, but didn't want cancer to define her.

A year after her diagnosis and treatment, she was cancer-free. She resolved not to live in fear of cancer, or look over her shoulder, waiting for the cancer to return or spread. She was going to focus on her 12-year-old son and her job as a school secretary, which she loved.

Her blog had become popular, but she stopped it. She moved on. She dreamed of weddings, travel, the future.

Four months later, however, the cancer was back. It had spread to her liver. The cancerous portion of her liver was removed. But she knows the cancer is metastatic. She knows cancer will almost surely come back and kill her.

She started her blog again.

"Often, breast cancer is portrayed as cute and fun and like a club, with everybody running 'for the cure' and wearing pink - and surviving," she said. "But, for many of us, it means illness and death. We are not the pretty side of the story but ours must be told. Metastatic women are the only women who will die of breast cancer, and yet we are barely represented in the pink ribbon world.

"Through my blog," she said, "I discovered . . . humor is so important. If you cannot laugh then you have lost your joy, and I found so many people who shared joy with me."

Another discovery:

"Those four months I was done with treatment and thought I would live to see marriages and grandchildren; I cherish those months. I would encourage women who have ended their cancer treatment to give themselves the gift of believing it is over. I know the fear of recurrence is real, but push it behind you. Allow yourself to live.

"I've accepted that . . . I won't be cured," she added. "But I still get to choose how I live. Now I just enjoy each day. I still think about the future but it's in much shorter increments. We with 'mets' [short for metastatic] say we live in three-month increments, because that's when our scans are!"

- Michael Vitez

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