7 Things I've Learned Living With Stage IV Breast Cancer

09/02/2011 12:40 pm ET | Updated Nov 02, 2011
  • Nancy Davis Living with stage IV breast cancer, born and raised in Chicago

Five years ago I didn't know much about stage IV breast cancer. Today, I know a whole lot more. First and foremost, stage IV breast cancer is not curable. Furthermore, it is not a chronic disease. These are the facts and I acknowledge them.

Understanding my cancer is a never-ending learning experience. Through hours and hours of research, I've become enlightened. There's no how-to book to educate one about the pitfalls and perks surrounding this disease. Yes, I said perks! The perk discoveries I've made are worth passing along to others.

Here are seven perks available to those dealing with stage IV breast cancer:

Perk #1. If -- and that's a big if -- a person with stage IV is able to extend her life beyond two years, she is automatically entitled to Medicare. Age does not matter. Whether you are 18 or 80 battling stage IV, Medicare is available to those who keep on living. Of course, most folks are not aware of this. Like I said, there's no how to; no one gets a notice in the mail to take advantage of this important medical opportunity. Trust me!

Perk #2. Another available benefit is something commonly referred to as the Crip Card. An oncologist can fill out a short one-page form obtainable at the Department of Motor Vehicles in any state. Once it's submitted, a stage IV person is entitled to a handicap placard that hangs in the car windshield. Or better yet -- apply for a handicap license plate! This is an important perk on those days when pain and fatigue are overwhelming. Leaving the doctor's office after hours of treatment is disabling. For those of us who are still able to drive, it's truly a benefit to have special parking at our disposal.

Perk #3. Cleaning for a Reason is next on my list. This Texas-based group has been helping cancer patients since 2007. Their mission is to connect patients with cleaning firms who will provide free services once a month. It's not unusual for some with stage IV to be bedridden for weeks. It's during those times that such a perk can be a lifesaver. The program operates in the United States and Canada. At last count, 604 cleaning partners were listed in the U.S.; four in the Canadian provinces. The free cleaning agreement is good for four months.

Perk #4. This perk involves a well-known exercise establishment called Curves. If stage IV has not zapped all one's strength, it's possible to take advantage of some special pricing at their facilities. Here's the really good news: Curves actually supports the cancer community by allowing persons with cancer to join their clubs. Some exercise operations prefer not to take the risk! So, check it out. Special pricing is only available in certain locations around the country.

Perk #5. While some may not consider this an appropriate perk, medical marijuana is gaining acceptance around the country. Currently there are 14 states that permit its use for medical purposes. Stage IV people experience pain more often than not. Studies indicate that marijuana provides pain relief. Again, not all individuals are alike; not all methods of treatment work for everyone. Those permitted to buy medical marijuana, in states that have signed off on it, can receive forms from their doctor. Once the forms are handed over to the nearest dispensary, a patient becomes licensed to buy it. The purchase price for the marijuana varies in every state.

Perk #6. If one is lucky enough to travel with stage IV, then I have some excellent suggestions for R&R. While not necessarily exclusive to stage IV persons, these spas and retreats will pamper. They cater to people who have cancer. The following places have come highly recommended:

Spas and Retreats:

Breast Cancer Recovery Retreats are located in Egg Harbor, Door County and Eagle River Wisconsin. The Eagle River location is especially designed for women (single, divorced or widowed) who are managing the disease without the support from a partner or significant other.

Callanish Healing Retreat in Vancouver, Canada rests on a luscious hillside that rises above a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Along with wonderful cooks who prepare nutritious feasts, their staff includes a music/relaxation therapist, two cancer support counselors, a massage therapist and a palliative care physician.

Commonweal Retreat Center in Bolinas, California is a nonprofit service and research center specializing in health and human ecology. It is located on a beautiful 60-acre site at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Guest houses offer complete relaxation and comfort along with an opportunity to partake in meditation and yoga.

Harmony Hill Retreats in Union, Washington first launched its cancer program in 1994. It has become the heart of their mission, which is to provide support to those affected by cancer. Operating as a nonprofit, Harmony has a number of programs for guests who seek to get away from their daily cancer routine. They offer an experience in renewal and deep well-being.

Sundara Inn and Spa is a 26-acre resort in one of Wisconsin's most desired locations -- the Wisconsin Dells. The name Sundara is a Sanskrit word meaning beautiful. The organic style architecture offers just the right motif for this natural pine woods setting. Sundara is hosting a retreat called Women's Celebration of Life October 21-23.

Perk #7. Most with stage IV would not be able to struggle through another day without the kindness and encouragement received from support group members. I'm very grateful to my support sisters and brothers who lift my spirits and provide me a sounding board. Anyone who is not connected with a support group should hook up with one today.

Stage IV Breast Cancer Support Groups and Affiliates:

Advanced Breast Cancer Community:

American Cancer Society:

ASCO American Society of Clinical Oncology:

ASTRO-American Society for Radiation:

Breast Cancer Action:

Cancer Connect: www.

Clinical Trials:

Metastatic Breast Cancer Network:

Noreen Fraser Foundation:

Y-ME National Breast Cancer:

I have Stage IV breast cancer. I wish I didn't. I wish no woman or man did. But, for those of us who do, there are people and organizations willing to make each day a little better. Thank goodness for the perks!

Until Next Time,