Life at the Base of a Cliff

It must be metaphor month here at The Cult of Perfect Motherhood, because I’ve got another one for you.

Finding out my breast cancer was metastatic was like being shoved off a cliff. I landed at the bottom and just laid there for a while, because landing at the base of a cliff fucking hurts. After a while, I picked myself and looked around at my new surroundings, and thought, “I’m not saying I’d like to build a summer home here, but the trees are actually quite lovely.” I’ve made some new friends down here, and although I wish I hadn’t been shoved off the cliff, I’m living a decent life in this place.

Once in a while, someone will come look down at me from the top of the cliff and say “Hey! I’m throwing you a rope, climb back up!” That rope is made of their hope. It’s a hope rope. (Isn’t that cute? I should market Hope Ropes. Patent pending.) They’re obviously well-meaning people who miss having me living up at the top of the cliff with them and are just trying to help. The problem is, they’re not actually helping.

Here’s the thing. Metastatic breast cancer is a terminal illness. I know I’ve said this before. A lot of times. But it doesn’t seem to sink in with most people, so let’s talk about the data. Average time from diagnosis with metastatic breast cancer to death is about 2-3 years. ¾ of us won’t be alive 5 years after diagnosis. The people handful of people who don’t die of their metastatic breast cancer? They die of getting hit by a bus or something else sudden and catastrophic. Which, frankly, isn’t exactly a “win,” is it? Metastatic breast cancer is incurable.

This is the reality. This is life at the base of the cliff.

So, when someone throws me a rope, what they’re asking me to do is really stupid, because it’s really dangerous. It’d be so easy for that rope to snap before I get to the top, and even if I did somehow make it up there and had “no evidence of disease,” eventually metastatic cancer always comes back. Always.

I don’t know how many more times I’ll be able to fall off a cliff before I can’t pick myself up anymore. And I know there are more cliffs down here—the lung mets cliff, the brain mets cliff, the liver mets cliff, the “there are no treatments left for us to try” cliff. I need to conserve my strength for when cancer shoves me off one of those cliffs. When, not if.

That’s what I meant when I said living with other people’s hope is hard. It’s hard because I have to tell them no when they throw me the rope, and that often hurts them, and I don’t want to hurt them, but I have to say no. Sometimes they try to argue with me about how they won’t let me fall, or say I’ve given up by living down here at the base of the cliff. I haven’t. I want to live for as long as I can, and for as well as I can. It’s just that I know that I’m going to live better if I’m realistic about what my life is now than if I keep wasting my strength trying to climb back up the cliff. So, I wish they’d stop throwing me ropes, and just let me enjoy the lovely trees. Because the base of the next cliff may not be as nice.