During the holiday season we all come together to express our gratitude. What women like us — battling metastatic breast cancer — are thankful for is life. But today’s blog post is much different than my other ones, because today I’m going to write about Elisa, who started her battle with breast cancer at just 24 years old. She started with Stage 2 breast cancer and went through what most survivors experience: Chem, radiation, surgery… which is no walk in the park!
Elisa, a mother of two young children, went through extensive treatment and had a double mastectomy. She became a proud survivor, who hoped that breast cancer would be in her past, an ordeal she would always remember but would get past. But about 30 percent of survivors unfortunately face the risk of their cancer returning and metastasizing to other parts of the body. Elisa was one of the 30 percent, and at the age of 26 she learned her cancer had spread to her brain.
The holiday season is especially difficult for Elisa because it was on Christmas Eve two years ago that doctors operated to remove a 5-centimeter mass from her brain. When Elisa woke from that surgery, she had lost the ability to walk and talk.
Think about being 26 and having to re-learn daily functions we take for granted. Having to re-learn how to walk and talk, clinging to your memories so you don’t forget your kids. Breast cancer has deprived her of so much, including being able to be with her children. They are being cared for by relatives in Florida. When we met, though, she welcomed me with a big smile. A true thriver — able to cherish the good when surrounded by such hardship.
While we chatted and got to know each other during my chemo session she told me how much she misses her kids. Because her medical care is in Connecticut, it wasn’t feasible for her to move to Florida. So she re-enrolled in college to make her kids proud. I have not had brain surgery and I would be intimidated to return to school with just my chemo brain! When I heard how she asks for so little my survivors-gift guilt hit me hard. I’ve been so fortunate to have people grant me opportunities to live and experience things while I still can. When Elisa met me at chemo I didn’t plan to write a blog about her or create a video, but after hearing her story I knew hers needed to be shared just as much as mine.
So, if you’re reading this and you can think of a way to get Elisa to Florida, reach out! Let’s create a magical Florida experience for this mother and her children!
Vlog Coming Soon...
My cancer journey began when I found my lump back in December of 2015. And since then I have met survivors, thrivers, people fighting their own battles, people who are full of kindness and people who can’t even hear about what I’m going through without getting squeamish.
Earlier this year I met Father John who, even though he is facing his own battles, never stopped putting others before himself. During one of our visits, the story of how I met Mariah Carey came up, and he said, “I wish I could meet Lady Gaga.” Everyone in the room said, “Let’s make this happen”! Now, if you follow my story, cancer battles are similar to roller coasters and make our lives very hard to predict. Most major health issues are rollercoasters!
As Lady Gaga’s show approached, Father John’s roller coaster decided to go downhill and so he couldn’t see her show. I felt so guilty going without him, because I met my hero and he wouldn’t be able to meet his. The entire night I felt something was missing, and it empowered me to see what I could do to help make Father John’s dream come at least partly true. Mariah Carey sent me a shout-out when I was at my worst back in August 2017, so my goal was clear: Get Lady Gaga to make a shout-out video for Father John.
I have learned throughout my journey that anything is possible. This is so important to keep re-proving to myself, so I’m reminded over and over again that the impossible can and does happen — so a cure for metastatic breast cancer is possible.
Now, I can’t share all the secrets of how I got in Lady Gaga’s good graces .... but I shared my story with her about my battle with metastatic breast cancer (because as you all know I always need to spread awareness about MBC) and how a piece of me was missing that night because Father John was suppose to be the one to accompany me, and shared his story too. Lady Gaga said “Let’s see what I can do,” and boom — another miracle.
While waiting to see Lady Gaga after her performance, another remarkable fighter shared some of the details of her battle with breast cancer. Since we are all are fighting #onedieasebc, I knew I was in the right place at the right time not only to help make Father John’s dream come true but to help another fighter. Every time I wake up I never know where my mouth will take me or what doors will open. I guess I have my cancer to thank for making me a little less fearless — but when you are facing the ultimate battle with metastatic breast cancer, some things are just a little less scary.
THANK YOU LADY GAGA!!!!
Larissa Podermanski (Blog writer for Metastatically Speaking)
Since I have been sick I have done my best to stay in motion — and many times I accidentally overdo it. Adjusting to a new you takes time, since I’ve known the old me for 29 years! Since March of 2016 I have been on the go, learning about breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer so I can better advocate for myself. Spending time traveling and making memories with friends, family and my new MBC friends I have had the honor to meet along my journey. Experiencing wonderful opportunities while also acting as a volunteer for Community Navigators (a nonprofit that supports individuals with disabilities so they can be included in their communities), blogging, vlogging, spreading awareness about MBC, advocating for more research, enjoying life and participating in several breast cancer initiatives. All are very important distractions from my reality — that I’m fighting for my life.
Staying positive and living a long life has been on the top of my list since the beginning of my journey. Minutes after I learned I had a non-curable form of breast cancer and that I will die from this, I decided to get married. That was my first big distraction. Positive, exhilarating experiences keep me pushing forward, and I consider my journey with MBC an opportunity to try to experience as many things that I thought were impossible before cancer that I can. Each time I do something I thought was out of reach, it reminds me that if that just happened, so can a cure or a treatment that works for me for years to come!
I mean — I met Mariah Carey! Words can’t express what that meant to me. Seriously.
On that note, I recently met with KICK 105.5 (a Connecticut country radio station) and this topic came up. Believe it or not, I love country music (yes, I can love Mariah and country). The conversation usually goes “Who would you love to meet?” and Mariah’s name always shoots out of my mouth. But I love music in general! Music has always helped me through my hard times. When I get bad news and people wonder why I start to cry hours later, it’s because sometimes I can’t handle hearing such news and I turn into Homer Simpson and I step into my mind and listen to music. Country music is as much a part of my heart as Mariah, for different reasons. For starters, a Tobey Keith show is a family holiday for us when he comes to town. My cousin Nick loves him so much, and so do we all. When the Zac Brown Band comes to Connecticut, all bets are off. Martin and I bring everything we have to the tailgate experience. The Zac Brown Band is the first country band Martin ever liked and they finally gave us something country to enjoy together. And I’m happy to say now he loves other country artists now too.
The memories we have made thanks to country music have been huge, but even before Martin and I attended the concerts together, it was always a family affair with my cousins. At my wedding, when Zac’s “Chicken Fried” came on, my family all jumped up and, for that second, we were back on the Xfinity Center’s lawn all together again. I grew up in an Italian family and while we aren’t perfect, we are close and love our family traditions.
So when KICK 105.5 asked me the question “If you could meet anyone … ?” I said, “Zac Brown Band.” I thought they would be shocked I didn’t say Mariah, but I finally had the ear of true country lovers, who I knew would understand. I’ve been fortunate to see so many wishes of mine come true in front of me this past year. This one is a little different. I actually want to meet the Zac Brown Band for my husband and my cousins. This would bring my bucket list for country come true.
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Some say when you face the reality of your cancer you get angry. Is it true? Absolutely! As positive I am, I have days where I feel as though I can’t handle this. It’s hard living in a split world, a world where you need to focus on living with cancer and your health while also dealing with the pressure of living in a world that goes a million miles per hour. It’s hard to focus when their are moments you want to be the old you: Wake up, go to work, go to the gym, go out with friends, sky dive… you know, do whatever floats your boat because you have all the time in the world.
When you live in a split world, it’s like you have one foot on two trains trying to go the same speed. You feel pressure from not knowing how long you have, pressure to keep a roof over your head, pressure to not give up on all your pre-cancer goals, while tackling all your new goals. In the middle of juggling all that, you try to focus on one task and then lose your powers of concentration because — chemo brain.
I thankfully had always lived a quick-paced life, so it’s not unusual for me. I used to bartend while I was in college and honestly, the busier the better! But now I’m pulled in different directions you cannot prepare for. Which task do I dive deeper and deeper into? It always comes back to my health. I need to take care of me in order to have goals. I now realize that when I get closer and closer to scan day, my nerves, anxieties and yes, even anger, gets the best of me. It is so hard to plan past scan day because “What if”? What if …. The news is not good? What if my whole treatment takes a hard left turn and I can’t do everything I hope to do? Then suddenly you’re back on the two trains trying to decide which train you need to truly be on.