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I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31. Having found a lump myself in my right breast, I instinctively knew something was wrong. Interestingly, the mammogram did not show anything even though the lump was easily felt. I had a lumpectomy and the pathology confirmed my worst fear…breast cancer.

Five years after undergoing aggressive treatment of chemotherapy and a bilateral mastectomy, I found out my cancer had returned and metastasized to my bones. What is this, I thought, bone cancer? I had never even heard of the possibility of breast cancer returning in other parts of the body. As a survivor, I thought all of this was behind me. Yet here I was, 36 years old and learning my previous stage 1B cancer was now stage 4 and medically diagnosed as terminal. It was earth shattering.

That was five years ago. I have been living with metastatic breast cancer, on active treatments, for the last five years. I have already swept through all of the aromatase inhibitors, those drugs that use hormonal manipulation to keep the cancer at bay. I am currently on the IV chemo, Doxil, the fifth treatment I have been on since my diagnosis. One of the best coping mechanisms I have found living with this disease, is to really educate yourself about your specific diagnosis. Breast cancer encompasses such a broad spectrum of variables that no two diagnoses are the same. Being aware of and invested in your specific type, available treatments, and ways to improve your health brings about such a sense of power in what generally feels like a powerless situation.

I’ve also learned how to truly live my life. If there is one thing I always try to share, it’s that you can still live a very full life after your diagnosis. In the last five years, I have traveled as much as I’ve always wanted. I have been more present in my life in a way that I never was before. I spend my days the way I want to and really recognize the importance of honesty with myself.

My best advice to anyone is learn to say no to things that don’t make you happy. Our time is so short, don’t waste even a moment on something you know you’ll look back on someday wishing you hadn’t done.

I am a single mom to a wonderful eight year old son. My child gives me strength and it is for him that I will fight until my last breath to be here. Being a mother is also what makes this diagnosis so very hard. Every day, I put a smile on my face and fight through the pain. My son deserves the best childhood I can give him. When I think about living with metastatic breast cancer, I think of my boy, of the life I hope he has, and that I am around to see it.

Living with a terminal illness is not a gift, it is a tragedy. I do not however, live as though it is tragic. That is my choice. We all have a choice to see things a certain way. It is not denial, but hope. I have a lot of hope for the future and I choose to live my life that way — for my child and myself. I wish all of us hope.