Karima Jessani says she’s a member of the “forgotten stage” of breast cancer.
“Living with metastatic breast cancer is a life-altering experience where physically and emotionally, your day-to-day functionality becomes challenging,” she says.
Metastatic – also called Stage 4 – means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Karima’s experience with metastatic breast cancer began four years ago when she found a lump in her breast.
“Initially, I thought it was going to be a lumpectomy with a good prognosis,” she recalls. But her surgeon called the day before the surgery saying the margins — the outer edges of the tumour that was removed during biopsy — didn’t look good. Karima underwent a full mastectomy and the removal of 24 lymph nodes. It was then found that the cancer had spread to the bone.
“I was extremely naive,” Karima says. “I didn’t know what metastatic breast cancer was or understand the magnitude and ramifications of the disease.”
There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. Treatments may include hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy or a combo of all of these to shrink the tumours and manage symptoms.
Karima says the diagnosis shocked her, and, the mom of three started bargaining in her mind.
“I just kept saying ‘Please, can I have three more years,’” Karima says. “The reality I was facing was very grim. Googling stage 4 cancer isn’t pleasant.”
“Stage 4 is like the forgotten stage. It feels like there’s money and there’s awareness for early detection and the early stages. But then, stage 4 … I feel like then you turn into a statistics.”
The hardest part, Karima says, is trying to explain her experience with metastatic breast cancer to others.
“I am never going to be cancer free. Also, from the outside I don’t look like I have cancer. I don’t show any signs of pain, anxiety, or fatigue,” she says. “People say things like ‘when do you stop your drugs? What happens now?’ and those things are hard to hear.”
Through her experience, though, Karima says she’s found a strength she didn’t know she had. She wants to raise awareness about metastatic breast cancer and its challenges.
“I’m involved in the breast cancer community and I have an amazing support network, including my husband and kids and family,” she says. “I have also been very blessed to have an amazing medical team and support at Sunnybrook.
“I cherish each moment and day that I am blessed with.”
Karima shared her story as a part of Sunnybrook’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month Photo Essay. See the photo gallery here.