Liz Miesen does not want to be defined by her breast cancer diagnosis.
“It’s part of me, it’s part of the journey, but it’s not the whole story,” she said.
Liz’s journey with cancer began when she was just 32. It wasn’t a breast cancer diagnosis then, but the “best pain in the neck ever;” severe pain that led to the discovery of a mass on her brain. It was during a busy time for the young Miesen family; their three children were 1, 3 and 5 at the time and when the diagnosis came a week before Christmas, despite the fear and uncertainty they were faced with, Liz was determined to proceed with life as they knew it. After a surgery and additional consultation, it was determined that no further treatment was needed for the tumor and life went back to normal for Liz.
Fast-forward four years to Labor Day of 2016 and Liz discovered a lump in her left breast while taking a shower. Immediately taking action and contacting her doctor, she was soon diagnosed with stage IIB or possibly stage IIIC invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. At the time her doctors felt there was lymph node involvement so additional scans were called for and by October, Liz’s world was rocked yet again when a spot was found in her hip and Liz’s diagnosis was changed to Stage IV, metastatic breast cancer.
“When Nick and I heard those words, we just went silent. Our sweet doctor gave us a minute and immediately we cried and Nick prayed over me. We were like deer in headlights,” Liz said.
For Liz and Nick, what came next was calling to deliver the news to family from a parking lot and then going to a nearby salon for a pedicure. “Why not?” said Liz. “We cried and then I made Nick get his toes done with me.”
Then they told their children, now ages 5, 7 and 9.
“We were very open with them and told them that mom was going to be at the doctors a lot. I told them I needed them to hang in there and be with me because we had so many questions and were dealing with so many unknowns. We all have an expiration date…this just put it a little more in your face.”
Liz and her team decided to move forward with an aggressive treatment plan of chemo, followed by a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction in March, and then radiation after that. Because her cancer was ER and PR positive and HER2/NEU negative, Liz was told by one doctor that the only option for her was hormone therapy and to enjoy the time she had left. Liz advocated for herself with other doctors and decided to move forward fighting with everything she had available to her.
“Since my oncologist felt there were other options for me, it just felt irresponsible to not try anything and everything,” Liz said.
Even though Liz had no family history of breast cancer, she was no stranger to survivors. Working for several years as an oncology nurse, Liz had some idea of what to expect with treatment, but still no way to know how it would affect her.
“There were certainly days that I spent in bed and felt crummy, but I tried to take a nugget from every day and feel good. Hearing my kids laughing, seeing friends and family come together was awesome. I was really lucky to have so many people supporting me.”
In the middle of her treatment, the Miesen family found plenty of time for levity and ways to give back. Liz cut her hair into a shorter cut and donated her long locks for a wig for someone else going through treatment. Once the chemo took its toll on her remaining hair, Liz took that into her own hands as well.
“We were on vacation and I found myself spending more time picking up all the hair I was now losing than actually getting ready. My husband and I then shaved my head on the same beach where he proposed…and then we went out to dinner! I’m not defined by my hair and could see the big picture ahead.”
Hearing Good News
As time passed, scans and physical exams showed that Liz’s course of treatment was working and the cancer that was once growing inside of her was lessening.
“At my appointment in November of 2017, we heard: ‘no evidence of metastatic disease’ and it was like we could breathe again. That’s what you hope for, but you’re always bracing yourself because it could come back at any time.”
Liz now currently deals with grade I lymphedema in her left arm, but is managing it with a compression sleeve, lymphatic massages and exercise.
“I am a medical mess and it’s ok. I’m a survivor…a metastatic survivor and a mom. Just call me Liz.”
It’s Liz’s incredible attitude, deep faith and strong community of family and friends that helped her through her treatment.
“The timing of all of this is amazing,” Liz said. “Metastatic breast cancer is not dismissed anymore. We can fight, we have a chance, we can live longer and fight this as a chronic disease. It’s not the end.”
For Liz, the Race in May will again be a time to bring together the many friends and family who have supported her throughout her journey with breast cancer. Liz is hoping to run this year, but whether she runs or walks on May 19th, she’s looking forward to seeing and being a part of the sea of pink.