Michelle

michelle with her sonBetween a career as a kindergarten teacher, an 8-year-old son, Charlie, and a marriage of 11 years to husband Matt, Michelle leads a busy life. However, October of 2015 brought tragic news to Michelle and her family: she had stage four terminal breast cancer.

“At the time, I didn’t understand what stage four meant. I was told it was treatable but not curable. In my mind I thought, ‘It’s like a chronic illness’, until I fully understood that stage four meant that you can die from this.” Michelle had no family history of breast cancer.

At 38 years old, Michelle was about to begin one of 13 rounds of chemotherapy. Her diagnosis caused her to retire from her job in the Providence school system, but she bravely faced treatment with strength and tenacity.

Her treatment over the last three years has included multiple rounds of chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and a clinical trial. While the trial did not improve Michelle’s condition, her participation aided researchers in their study and helped future patients who may benefit. While she is still able to do the things she enjoys, like kickboxing, dancing, and modeling for a local boutique, this aggressive cancer continues to spread.

She currently receives a monthly injection for her ovaries, chemotherapy through an IV and, after the disease spread to her bones, bone strengthening medication. These therapies are meant to keep the cancer “asleep,” or inactive, in her body.

Even having this terminal diagnosis, I smile every day.  I’m grateful to wake up every day to smile and make other people smile.

Despite a devastating diagnosis, Michelle remains optimistic. She had the idea to keep daily journals that she will later pass on to her young son, Charlie. “I love taking pictures. Some say I post too many on Facebook, but that only made me want to take more and more. I want Charlie to have them.” After adding to her photo albums, Michelle realized that writing to Charlie would be an even more personal way to connect with her son.

michelle working out “When it started, I found poems I liked and wrote them down for him in a journal.” The entries have evolved from there, with nearly five journals now filled with Michelle’s daily activity for her son. “Charlie was only five years old when I was diagnosed, and I think about how much I remember from when I was five, and it’s not much.”  With these journals and accompanying photos, Charlie will be able to look back on this time with cherished memories from his mother.

“I feel like everyone should do this, even without a terminal diagnosis,” Michelle says of her journals, “Life goes by so quickly and I wish I had something like this to remember things—I want Charlie to have that.” Michelle’s goal is to see Charlie walk across the stage at his high school graduation.

While a cancer diagnosis like Michelle’s is staggering, she chooses to look on the bright side, “I wish I didn’t have my diagnosis, but it’s brought many blessings. My dream was always to work in a boutique and now I have been given that opportunity.” After earning her degree in fashion merchandising, Michelle says she has come full circle after her teaching career and has fulfilled her dreams of working in fashion.

Michelle shares medical care between the Lifespan Cancer Institute and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Michelle speaks very highly of her care team at Lifespan. “The people there are amazing. Everyone knows me by name, I feel like they’re family.” The owner of the boutique Michelle is involved with has held two fundraisers for her, both of which were attended by her nurses and her oncologist, Mary Ann Fenton, MD.  Her husband, Matt, runs marathons for breast cancer research.

Her illness has taught her to live in the moment and not to sweat the small stuff. “Even having this terminal diagnosis, I smile every day.  I’m grateful to wake up every day to smile and make other people smile.”

Learn more about the Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic at the Lifespan Cancer Institute