Minnesota Oncology patient Camille Scheel is one of an estimated 155,000 people currently living with metastatic breast cancer in the United States. Last month, she published her memoir "Camp Chemo: Postcards Home from Metastatic Breast Cancer."
Scheel told her story to the Pioneer Press in 2014:
"It was 2007 when I found the lump," Scheel says. "My daughter was in first grade, my son was not quite a year and a half old. I was 37. It was total shock. No family history. I was just really, really surprised. Within 10 days of diagnosis, I had surgery.
"I thought I was signing up for one surgery, a lumpectomy, it didn't seem like that big of a deal," Scheel says. "In surgery, though, they found the cancer was more advanced than they had thought: Stage 3, which meant chemotherapy and radiation, plus it was estrogen-receptive, which meant I needed to get a hysterectomy and my ovaries removed. As we got further into it, I also learned I had the mutated BRCA2 gene (which means a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers), so I made the choice to go back and get a mastectomy, and reconstruction after that."
To cope, Scheel began sharing her story through CaringBridge.
"I started blogging within a couple of weeks of my cancer experience," Scheel says. "By 2009, I closed it down because I thought I was fine."
In 2012, hip pain told her otherwise. It took 10 months of increasing pain before a diagnosis was made through an MRI: The cancer had spread into her bones.
"Once I found out it had metastasized, my husband and I cried like babies, literally," Scheel says. "I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know if it meant I had six weeks, six months, or six years."
Two years later, she still isn't sure. It's a strange place to be…
"For millennia, if you had cancer, you were told to put your affairs in order and you went home to die," Scheel says. "In the last few decades, we have a new narrative: Cancer can be treated and then you can move on with your life and there's hope. For people like me, who end up having cancer metastasize -- to move to other organs, or, in my case, into my bones -- I feel a little bit left out of that narrative. I'm living with cancer and I always will be. They no longer talk about a cure, it's just a matter of 'extending life.'"
Scheel says she wanted to share her story because the experience of living with metastatic cancer isn’t often told. “I wrote an approachable story that has some humor in it to say, ‘Okay, let’s start talking about this.’”
“I wanted to speak from the perspective of someone who won’t be cured but is living well and has hope for a good life regardless,” she says.
Copies of Scheel’s book, “Camp Chemo: Postcards Home from Metastatic Breast Cancer” can be found in the infusion rooms at Minnesota Oncology clinics.
Learn more about “Camp Chemo" here.
Order the book from Itasca Books here.