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Mothers Share Battle with Breast Cancer

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 04:12 PM CDT

In Texas, more than 17,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year. Thirty percent of those women will battle stage IV for the rest of their lives. Many of these women are under the age of 40 trying to raise small children.

"That was the scariest part. I mean who's going to raise her," said Tammy Notley.

Tammy's daughter was two months old when she got the diagnosis,

"There were days when I couldn't even make a bottle, I couldn't get to the counter to make a bottle for her and that's very devastating."

"For those of us who are going through cancer treatment, I think there's a lot of guilt because we're disrupting the family so much," said Kelli Konopczyk.

Kelli had to tell her young children just three weeks after losing her sister to the disease, "so they also knew that Aunt Kim died from breast cancer and that was very scary for them."

Kristie McFarling was 31 years old when she found out. "I'm not afraid of what comes after in the afterlife or anything like that but you're afraid of missing your children growing up," said McFarling. "And that is definitely the strongest emotional part of this journey for all of us who are moms."

All three women have stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

"To get up everyday and think oh how long am I going to be here?" said Notley. "That's hard."

Tammy and Kristie make up a small percentage of women, about six to 10 percent,  who have been stage IV since their initial diagnosis.

"I remember just picking up my daughter and sitting on the edge of the bed and just holding her and just rocking back 'n forth because I was so shocked," said Notley.

"Kristie was diagnosed right off the bat with stage IV and  I remember just thinking like oh my gosh I can't imagine that," said Konopczyk. Kelli suffered a recurrence two years after she started treatment for stage II.

"I did cry harder for her I think and for any woman that has a reccurence than I did for myself," said McFarling.

Mets showed up in Kelli's liver and bones after she had already undergone aggressive chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.

"I like to look at it like a chronic illness," said Konopczyk. "I don't like to look at it as a terminal disease."

For these women, and countless others, their daily battle with cancer is part of life.

"The cycle of ups and downs can be very exhausting or very hard emotionally and physically, so for us to kind of be there for each other and help each other through the low points and enjoy the high points is just essential," said McFarling.

Kristie, Kelli and Tammy motivate each other through a support group where all the women face the same challenges. "Other people want to understand but unless you've been there, you can't," said Notley. Motivation is critical with metastatic breast cancer because fighting means living.

The women are members of the support group, The Lotus Forum. The group was formed by the Breast Cancer Resource Center for women diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer who are ages 45 and below, and for those with school age children.

Many of the members of the Lotus Forum will be participating in the BCRC's fundraiser Art Bra Austin on Saturday, May 18. To buy tickets go to their website.

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Being diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer means a lifelong battle. This creates a whole new set of challenges for women trying to balance treatment with raising a family. To meet their needs, the Breast Cancer Resource Center created a special support group.

When you're diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, you become inundated with information. "You're faced with a lot of choices. Do you do surgery, do you start chemo first? Do you do radiation? and, it's very overwhelming," said Kristie McFarling. McFarling was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer when she was 31.

Just talking it out  can be healing. "Having people know exactly what you're going through and just saying it's normal is just such a big help," said Kelli Konopczyk. Konopczyk was 35 years old when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.

 "When you're around other survivors, especially other women with metastatic breast cancer they just get it," said patient navigator, Runi Limary.

That sense of understanding is why the Breast Cancer Resource Center formed a new support group called The Lotus Forum. "I want them to be able to feel free to share what's going on in their life," said Limary. Limary runs the meetings specifically for women with stage IV metastatic breast cancer who are under 45 or have school-aged children.

"There wasn't a group for younger women with young children because our challenges are different than other women who have stage 4," said Tammy Notley. Notley was diagnosed with stage IV two years ago. At the time, her daughter was only two months old.

 "Pretty much everyone I've met so far is balancing kids and careers, spouses and school, all the things that everyone woman does," said Konopczyk.

In the Lotus Forum, nothing is off limits. "We talk about marriage and intimacy and sexuality and how different that is now," said McFarling.

For these women, aggressive surgeries have become almost routine, but that doesn't make them any less emotional. "When you have a body that's full of scars and definitely doesn't look the way you did when you got married, it's frightening," said McFarling.

"They have the opportunity to laugh if they want to laugh. They can cry, they can curse, that's pretty much their safe outlet," said Limary.

The group creates some stability for the women who will battle a very unstable disease for the rest of their lives. "The mentality is so different and the mindset you have to have. It's not if I can just get through these next six months everything is going to be fine, it's I'm in this forever," said McFarling.
 
The women take comfort in knowing, with the Lotus Forum, they're not in it alone. Members of the Lotus Forum currently meet once a month at the convenience of its members.

--Deeda Payton, KEYE TV News

Mothers Share Battle with Breast Cancer


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