An Invitation to Live: Kansas City Woman Shares Journey with Metastatic Breast Cancer
“Take it as an invitation to live. Don’t treat your new limits as something bad; it’s something different.” -Carrie Habib
Carrie Habib has a zest for life that’s plain to see.
She radiates joy standing by her daughter in front of a helicopter, both with wide smiles and open arms. Looking at the photo, you wouldn’t know it was taken a short time after she learned her life would be forever changed.
Just before Christmas 2017, the long-time Kansas Citian was having a bad pain in her thigh and thought she pulled a muscle. But after several doctors’ visits, mammograms, and blood tests, Carrie got news no one wishes to hear.
It was stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
The cancer had spread and was causing her thigh bone to weaken significantly. She underwent surgery to have a titanium rod inserted to replace the bone and would need weeks of physical therapy.
But the most challenging part was finding the words to tell the ones she loved while processing what her diagnosis meant.
“Metastatic means you’re not going to be cured or go into remission; it’s treatable,” Carrie said. “As you process it, you realize your life might not be as long as you thought — Am I going to live 5 years, 10 years? Am I going to be able to do what I want to do? Am I ever going to be able to see my future grandkids or travel? …it took a while to come to terms with my new reality.”
Soon after her surgery, she met with Dr. Timothy Pluard, the medical director of Saint Luke’s Koontz Center for Advanced Breast Cancer—one of the only treatment centers of its kind to focus exclusively on the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. Dr. Pluard and the Koontz Center team worked to come up with a unique treatment plan specific to Carrie’s cancer.
She was on board to try anything her care team recommended.
“There may be some limitations living with metastatic breast cancer, but there’s a lot of options,” Carrie said. “You don’t know what next week, or even next year is going to be like, but you have to keep hanging on to hope and new options for treatment.”
A few months later, Carrie visited her daughter, Sarah, who had moved out to the Pacific Northwest. The two were driving along the Oregon coast and passed a helicopter by the road offering scenic tours. Choosing to live in the movement rather than by her diagnosis, Carrie told her daughter to turn the car around for a day they’d never forget.
“After you get the devastating news and you figure it out, the effect of having a positive outlook is hard to measure,” Carrie said. “You just have to focus on the good in your life moving you forward and have a really good support network of friends and family.”
Over the past several years, Carrie has battled her cancer with oral chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and medications. She also participated in two clinical trials for new metastatic breast cancer drugs. She knows she has benefitted from people before her who have participated in trials and hopes her involvement will help women in the years to come.
Previous studies showed the average survival after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis was 18 months. But with a growing understanding of the disease and the Koontz Center’s access to the latest clinical trials and innovative treatment options, many women like Carrie are far outliving the statistics.
“Every standard treatment we have is the result of clinical trials testing and proving its effectiveness,” Dr. Pluard said. “Our view at Saint Luke’s Koontz Center is that every patient should have the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial at every treatment change in the course of their journey, so that they have the opportunity for more treatment options that may improve their long-term outcome. … Carrie is the poster child for that.”
Carrie also participated in Saint Luke’s Koontz Center’s annual Journey of Hope and Courage retreat with her mother. There, she got to know nine other women, along with each of their support persons, who were going through similar journeys.
She has remained close to many from that weekend, keeping in touch through a Facebook group and dinners pre-pandemic.
Carrie recently started a new treatment and is doing well, nearly four years after her diagnosis. She lives with her son, Alex, and continues to work full time.
Despite all the ups and downs, Carrie has never stopped dreaming or making plans for the future. She’s currently learning Italian and brushing up on her French to take a bucket list trip to Europe after the pandemic.
Her message to others with metastatic breast cancer is to give yourself permission and time to process your diagnosis, but to not let it dictate your life.
“Take it as an invitation to live. Don’t treat your new limits as something bad; it’s something different.”