Everything started to fall apart as soon as I left the grocery store parking lot.
It was August 2019, and I was driving to lunch with my toddler after dropping my oldest at school. While on the road, I felt a headache come on strong and I started to see double, so I pulled over into a lot in Midtown Atlanta. The rest of the story is an incoherent blur, pieced together through the accounts of witnesses who saw it and family members I don’t remember calling on the phone.
When you have your first-ever seizure, I learned, the aftermath can be a fog. It’s why I inexplicably resumed driving right out of that parking lot after regaining consciousness.
I vaguely remember calling my husband while driving — he was asking me my location and what had happened when SMACK! I side-swiped a semi. But my brain didn’t tell me to stop driving, so I kept on going until a good Samaritan finally pulled up next to me and offered to help.
Aside from the obvious damage to the side of my vehicle, he could see I was driving on three tires and one rim. I’m thankful beyond words to be alive and that my daughter and I were not hurt.
Unfortunately, the news didn’t get better from there.
I’m a breast cancer survivor and thought I had beaten it when I achieved full remission 13 years ago. I thought I had the cancer contained with treatment when it came back in 2018 and spread to my bones, lungs, and liver.
But I never considered that my breast cancer had metastasized into my brain, and it was never discovered by my oncologist because my insurance company refused to pay for the MRI that would allow him to look. Such a test, the underwriters determined, required more evidence for them to authorize. That evidence came in the form of a semi-automatic truck that almost did to me what cancer thus far could not.
It has been four years since I got the diagnosis — metastatic breast cancer — after leaving that grocery store parking lot, and I am still fighting cancer and still surviving.
I used to be a nurse, so I understood what “metastatic” disease meant as soon as I heard the word escape my oncologist’s mouth: The cancer is no longer curable, and I’ll be on some sort of treatment for the rest of my life. But this reality was harder for my family to grasp.
My oldest, Eliana, is nine. My baby, Isabella, is almost six. My husband, Kurt, and I have been married for 13 years. My initial cancer diagnosis was months after our wedding, and he has been a constant source of love and strength. My entire extended family in the area has been so invaluable, incredible, and important to me in this journey.
My daughters know Mommy is sick and that I must go to the doctor every so often for medications and different tests. My youngest is very attached to me because I’ve been her primary caregiver since she was born. She gets frustrated when she has to go stay with Grammy because I have to get my treatment. I try to explain that these medicines are very important to Mommy’s health, so I can be alive and here with her. She understands, but it’s still hard.
I want to be honest with my kids. They’re intuitive, so there’s no pretending. We don’t talk at length about my mortality, but they know I’m fighting for my life. Last month at school, they celebrated Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Everybody had to wear pink, and Eliana told her teacher, “I’m wearing pink for my mommy because she has breast cancer.”
When my daughters are older and remember their mom, I want them to look back on the love, the lessons, and the quality time we had together. I want them to remember that I was a fighter, savoring every moment we got to spend together in this precious life. Staying busy for them helps keep me going.
Everyone battling metastatic breast cancer (MBC) needs support from people who truly understand this journey.
I found that community of survivors on Instagram through Every Day for MBC.
Sometimes I am tired of holding it all together, and I can let it go with other people who truly get what I’m going through. Sometimes it’s a relief to get those feelings out and express that life is hard.
But most of my posts aren’t like that. I talk about my experiences and a flood of questions come. I use my medical background to do my best to answer them. Some women are inspired. Others, who are about to go through it themselves, are comforted. Those who haven’t heard about it appreciate learning more.
On Every Day for MBC, we don’t have to be strong at any given moment; we just get to be ourselves. Most importantly, we listen and offer knowing, loving understanding. It’s good to have a space online to help me stay strong so I can keep going and keep fighting for my girls, my husband, my family — and myself.
Tiffany Kinkead is a 38-year-old wife, mother, Registered Nurse turned stay-at-home mom, and a metastatic breast cancer thriver. Tiffany is an advocate for herself, for her family, and for other women navigating their breast cancer journey.