A Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis caused wife and mother Sarah Schultz to tap her inner reserves for a strength she never knew she had. Here, how she made peace with her “chronic condition” and looks to the future with hope.
Back in January 2008, a typical day for then 29-year-old Sarah Schultz meant keeping up with 3-year-old daughter, Madeline, while balancing baby Luke on her hip. And then a diagnosis of breast cancer got in the way. It looked like the Waukesha, WI, wife and mom was in the clear when, just 18 months later, she was declared cancer-free. But then, in late May 2011, Sarah learned the cancer had returned—to her lungs, lymph nodes, adrenal glands and bones. At age 33, she was battling Stage IV breast cancer.
“When the cancer returned, I was first overwhelmed with fear,” admits Sarah. “I’d heard others say you will learn to live with it, and not feel like you’re dying of it. I couldn’t wrap my brain around that. But now I know that it can be treated like a chronic condition. I also have faith in the drugs, and know that any discomfort I feel is just temporary.”
Indeed, today, two years since her Stage IV diagnosis, her strength and spirit won’t be dimmed. The chemo she receives, along with targeted therapy and a bone-strengthening medication, are keeping her cancer in check. And her mindset gets her through the tough days. Here, her lessons in living with Stage IV cancer.
“Theme” your chemo.
Sarah makes chemo days a little more fun by giving them themes. Like Adolescent Sleepover (think Justin Bieber posters in the chemo room), Asian Fusion (ninja attire and sushi) and What About Bob? (life jackets and a Bill Murray-style bucket hat). Making parties out of chemo sessions “makes the time go faster and it creates a fun memory. The nurses love it.”
Get calm from things you can control.
“I think I’ve developed an OCD tendency to keep family and home together,” says Sarah. “Everything else—like plans for going back to school or for getting a job—is out of my control right now. So to be able to focus on family and home gives me such a sense of calm and peace and accomplishment.”
Take joy in daily rituals.
Sarah and the kids have a special bedtime routine. After bath and story time, “each child wants to hear his or her song,” says Sarah. “Maddie has always been particular, so we sing ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children’ exactly two times. Luke and I sing ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ ”
Let others off the hook.
Sometimes it can get wearing to answer even a simple “How are you?” Yet, says Sarah: “I realize, there’s never a ‘right’ thing to say to someone going through cancer. So if someone asks me how I’m doing, I realize they’re really just trying to say, I’m thinking about you. I haven’t forgotten about you.”
Discover your mantras.
“When things are tough or I’m having pain, I just keep thinking, I’ve done this before; I can do anything,” Sarah says. “It makes me feel empowered. And some days I think, One day at a time. I only have to do today.”