Stress Management as it Relates to Managing an MBC Diagnosis

Stress Management as it Relates to Managing an MBC Diagnosis

By Terlisa S - May 06, 2019

Pictured: Terlisa Sheppard (left), Terlisa's youngest daughter, Alyah, and her oldest daughter, Alexis (right)

Receiving a stage III breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 31, when I was already 8 ½ months pregnant, was very stressful to say the least. It’s not the news that you are expecting to hear when you are about to bring a new life into this world.

At that very moment, I knew I had to re-focus my thought process and concentrate on delivering a healthy baby, first and foremost. I will never forget the evening that I received my diagnosis from my breast surgeon. She asked if I had any questions, and the first question that came to my mind was, “would I be able to breastfeed my baby?” To this day, I think back on that moment, and realize that even with the surprise blow that I was given, my motherly instinct kicked in and prevailed over a stage III diagnosis. I already had a toddler at home, who had just turned two years old the month before my diagnosis, and I had breastfed her for nine months.

Granted, I was in shock after receiving this diagnosis, but I knew that I had to be strong for my innocent babies. Before even going through my treatment plans, I started accessing my plans for my young family and I knew that I had to keep my stress levels to a minimum if I was going to be able to get through any of this at all.

I started my breast cancer journey, just as I had thought I would, by going into strategy mode. My family, and my ex-husband’s family, were a great support system and aided in my quest to get through this with the least amount of stress as possible. Both families, including nearby friends, were always around to lend a helping hand.

As time went on, just two years after my cancer-free diagnosis, I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, in 2001, at the age of 34 years old. This time, the cancer had metastasized to my bones, lungs, and liver. As soon as my oncologist gave me my new diagnosis, she told me to, “go home, quit work, and get my life in order.” This is when things were beginning to take a different turn in my family life. My daughters were now three and five years old, and I was sicker than ever. Even though I was at my sickest point, I still thought of my young daughters as being my priority in fighting this advanced disease. My marriage was already taking a toll, so I knew I had to step up and give my girls the best that I could.

My life at this point became a balancing act. Yes, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), but I had developed this “thick skin,” so to speak, and strapped on my boxing gloves to take on any and everything that came my way. Things got worst before they got better! I remember the daily traditions of waking up, getting dressed; makeup included, all to just sit on the sofa in my den. That is about all the energy that I could muster up at the time. My treatments were now on a weekly basis and my white blood counts took a nose dive as a result, so I really couldn’t go out into the open environment much anyway.

During this phase, I remember thinking that once I get my strength back, there will be no stopping me! Well, I got re-diagnosed in 2002, with metastases to my spine and abdomen and in 2003, with metastasis to my brain. This blow slowed me down, but it didn’t stop me!

After going through all of this, I regained enough strength to start driving again. I was now able to attend field trips with my daughters. Not only did I attend, I became a chaperone on a regular basis. Since I was now driving my daughters to school, I would just stay and volunteer every morning in the cafeteria. Some folks thought that I was a regular employee there. This extra effort was me regaining my mental and physical strength. Plus, it got me out of the house to see life on the outside, which did wonders for me as well.

The short trips to school, turned into longer road trips with my daughters. Every holiday and school break, I would pack up the car and get on the road to go somewhere! It was my goal to expose my daughters to all 50 US states before they graduated high school. I believe we made it to about 32 states together. It wasn’t a letdown because I set the bar high, so that I could challenge myself even harder. We took on countless museums, local parks, beaches, visited every town’s historic district, and even took on a few wineries! Yes, kids are allowed! No wine, of course, but they do have free tours, and samplings of various sparkling ciders, crackers, and cheeses. This is how I factored in spending quality time with my girls, on a disability budget and now as a single parent.

To make all our adventures even more memorable, we took tons of pictures and I would scrapbook each trip. This little process aided in my quest to educate my daughters as we were having fun. Each trip, they had to take along a journal, to take notes and write journal entries at the end of each day. Again, this was my creative way of teaching them as we traveled along the countryside. I even had to stop a moment for a right hip replacement in 2007, but with aggressive therapy and a strong-willed mind, I was back again to start where I left off.

This had to be the most ingenious thought process that I’ve ever had in my entire life. These trips literally gave me life and have added years to my journey. I remember countless laughter that my daughters and I shared as we took on one journey after the other. Those beautiful babies are now gorgeous young ladies who are also honor students in college. This is a miracle in itself! Remember, I was told to go home and get my life in order. That was almost 18 years ago!

I like to think that I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me! I live my life daily, with a “can-do” attitude. I can do pretty much anything that I want to do. My body has been damaged from the countless chemotherapy and radiation treatments and surgeries, but I am here, and I am living my best life, every moment of the day.

When given a border-line diabetic diagnosis several years ago, I joined a local gym, changed my eating habits to a healthier way of eating and have been growing stronger since then. My aches and pains are even better, plus I like to think that I look better as a result of my daily workouts.

I can truly say that this has been a great way to limit stress as well.

Now, almost 18 years since my first metastatic diagnosis; I am a very busy patient advocate who enjoys life to the fullest. I’ve managed to balance my life as a single mom, while living with an aggressive metastatic diagnosis. I like to think that I live with purpose!

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