After losing her mother to metastatic breast cancer, Ayanna Kalasunas continues her own fight with the disease and focuses on the important things in life with her husband Mike.
On a recent February afternoon, 37-year-old Ayanna Kalasunas lounged with her husband, Mike, in the clear warm water of the Caribbean. She had a margarita in hand, and looked up at the lush rain forest of Puerto Rico, and the blue sky above it. A day later, back home in winter in South Philadelphia in the US, she’s replaying the memory. “I was with my husband, who I love, and I thought, if I don’t find joy in that….” She shrugs, a broad smile on her face.
For the last four years, Ayanna has been focusing on finding the moments of joy in her life, and feasting on them. It was in late December of 2012, just before taking off with her then-fiancé for a weekend getaway, that she went to the hospital to check a lump in her breast. The woman giving her the ultrasound looked up at her with wide eyes, and Ayanna remembers thinking: “I didn’t come in here for that. We had plans.”
Things get bad and scary and frustrating sometimes. You have to accept what’s beyond your control.
Ayanna Kalasunas, patient advocate
She knew all too well about breast cancer. Her mother had experienced breast cancer in her forties, which came back after a decade of remission and was metastatic, meaning that it had spread to other organs. Ayanna remembers delivering the news of her own disease to her mother. “That was the hardest call to make,” she says.
A week later, in early January, Ayanna’s mother was with her when they learned that she, too, had metastatic breast cancer, or MBC. The disease had invaded her liver. For Ayanna, like the 250,000 women around the world every year who learn they have MBC, the diagnosis was the beginning of a journey. She wouldn’t wish it on anyone, she says. It brought her crippling bone pain, traumatic surgery, the nausea of chemotherapy, and a steady drip of anxiety. She lost her mother to the disease, in 2015. “Things get bad and scary and frustrating sometimes,” she says. “You have to accept what’s beyond your control.”
Through it all, though, Ayanna has managed to savor the triumphs that most 30-somethings can take for granted: the days without pain, dinners with her husband, strolls through her South Philadelphia neighborhood with her energetic rescue dog, Bailey. One of her early successes involved getting the right mix of medications to…