This Mother's Day we sat down with mother daughter duo Barbara and Bridget. Barbara is a mother of two daughters, and we had the honor of meeting one of them at our photoshoot, Bridget. This Mother's Day we want to honor not just the two of them, but all mother daughter duos who have experienced breast cancer and how, together they were able to get through it even stronger. Barbara and Bridget sat down with social media manager, Bianca, and shared their experiences.
Barbara, can you tell me a little bit about your diagnosis
Wow, 20 years ago, I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. The third sister to be diagnosed; but we had genetic testing and it wasn't genetic. We don't have the BRCA genes, they think it might be something not discovered yet, or something we might have been exposed to, but they don't know.
You know, I went through a year of treatment and as I was finishing up my treatment, my older sister metastasized. By the fall, it had spread to her brain, and she died. That was awful and night at 13-year remission.
I was ER+ in the beginning. I went in for an MRI on my back for back pain, and they found a solid tumor in my peritoneum that had crushed the ureter and destroyed my kidney. It metastasized to my liver and some lymph nodes at the base of my spine. They still thought I was ER+, so I went through a year of treatment, and I failed every line. So, at the end of that year, they decided to re-biopsy my liver and they discovered I had mutated to triple negative which is not good news.
So, I went to my oncologist said, who recommended we try a clinical trial, which used chemotherapy with immunotherapy. It was a new thing just coming out in 2016 when I decided to do this, and it was harsh. About three months in, I had a severe adverse reaction, and I went into hyper-inflammatory syndrome where all my organs started shutting down. They had to hospitalize me and put me in a medically induced coma for about 10 days.
Because the trial was so new, they did not know what to treat it with, so they treated me with antibiotics, which ended up being the wrong treatment. So, sort of towards the end of that, they decided to try really high dose steroids, and it worked, and I came out of the coma, but I could no longer walk. I couldn't swallow and couldn't use my hands. So, I was in the hospital for a month on dialysis. I was then transferred to an acute rehab, where I spent a month in rehab doing hours a day of therapy to learn how to walk and swallow again. After about a month, I was finally allowed to go home on a cane, with home services there, to monitor me. They did a pet scan and it showed that my tumors were melting away.
They decided not to do any therapy for a while, while I was recovering. I had lost 42 pounds. So, what happened was that I have no evidence of disease and haven't had any evidence of disease for seven years and have not had any treatment.
I have side effects from immunotherapy - balance issues and adrenal issues. So, I take a lot of medication. I have severe neuropathy in my feet, and it caused problems with my thyroid. I had half of my thyroid taken out this past January, so I have these ongoing side effects from the immunotherapy, but I don't have Breast Cancer Mets. In that seven-year period, I developed early-stage primary lung cancer and had my lung resected and I had melanoma and had that surgically removed. So that's my trifecta of cancers.
Bridget has been my co-pilot through most of the stuff starting from a pretty young age. And, my other daughter is a nurse, and she went to all my infusions with me, but Bridget's the person that does all the creative stuff with me" - Barbara
Bridget, how has your relationship with your mom changed since her diagnosis?
"Oh God, I don't think it has. I don't think it is because I give tough love and I stay strong for everyone. So, I don't really get sad - I stay focused on things. I just think okay, move on and I don’t think anything’s different about our relationship." - Bridget
Who was your primary caregiver?
"My daughters were young at the time I was diagnosed, Bridget being around 10 or 11 at the time, so my husband was my primary caregiver, even though he hates that word, and my two daughters were my secondary. I would say that just from my experience, that it really deepened my relationship with my kids because you can't hide.
Other people outside of my family always commented on how close we are, like people always say, "wow you and your daughters are so connected" and I think it's because you've been through some really bad times together." - Barbara
What lessons have you learned from your mom as she has undergone treatment and surgeries and just this whole cancer journey?
"For starters, I know way more about breast cancer than anyone really should know. But secondly, as cliche as it sounds, life is short, and you should really live in the moment. Live, laugh, love and live everyday like it's going to be your last day on Earth.
If you're faced with something so devastating or tragic, instead of dwelling on it, accept it and try to advocate for people to spread awareness. The more people know about the disease, the better chance there is to finding more ways to treat it, and hopefully cure it." - Bridget
Bridget, is there a moment during your mom's initial diagnosis, or anywhere along her journey that you remember specifically that feels meaningful or impactful to you?
"When she works up from her coma, she thought that everyone was fake, like imposters and not real people. She thought that everyone was in an alliance with her and not real people, except for me.
The other moment was when she was getting her dialysis and she kept asking for a diet coke, so I finally put one on the table and said, "now stop asking everyone for a diet coke." - Bridget
Barbara, what is the most memorable moment for you during any part of your diagnosis?
"Um, Well. All the really shitty medical stuff? That, of course, is at the forefront in my mind, but I try to just think of the fun stuff that I've done. Bridget and I went to North Carolina to do a photo shoot with Beth Fairchild for this NBC thing, and they took us to a lake and told us to take off our clothes and they wrapped us in sheets and told us to get in the water, which was freezing cold, and they took these pictures, which turned out beautifully. Bridget was kind of cradling me in her arms, and I'm lying in the water in this white sheet. It was really amazing. So, I like that. I like the fun stuff, the more creative stuff that is a result of having metastatic cancer." - Barbara
What would you like mothers and daughters to know this Mother's Day?
"I would say if you have a mother with metastatic breast cancer, or even early-stage breast cancer, you need to advocate for yourself as a young woman and start going to the doctor and ask for ultrasounds, MRIs and mammograms starting at 30." - Barbara
"As cliche as it is, you should hug everyone around you." - Bridget