I Was 41 and Running 5Ks When I Was Diagnosed With Terminal Cancer

Eva Crawford
·6 min read

I’m not the kind of person who runs to the doctor for every scrape and scratch, so when I started having back pain, I wasn’t going to book an appointment with a specialist. Instead I blamed the soreness on my age—40. But then one night I was lying in bed with my husband and the pain suddenly overwhelmed me. I remember telling my husband it felt like back labor, which I was all too familiar with after having three children. I knew I wasn’t pregnant, so I was stumped. The next day I told a girlfriend about the incident, and she begged me to go straight to the emergency room. I obliged.

A head-to-toe scan found something very small in my colon, so the next step was a colonoscopy. I was convinced I was going to wake up with a room full of doctors telling me I had colon cancer. But the colonoscopy came back clear, so I was sent a chiropractor to resolve my back pain.

Fast-forward a year: I was now 41 and had yet to get a mammogram. (Editor’s note: The American Cancer Society says women have the option to start screening for breast cancer at 40.) So on the morning of my ninth wedding anniversary, I finally went in; that night I put on a cute dress, lipstick, and heels, and went to dinner with my husband. In a matter of days I would be asked to return for an ultrasound and then a biopsy.

I tried not to worry, but I knew the biopsy results would come in while my family and I were on a trip to New York, my favorite city in the world. I remember going to breakfast with my husband, then walking around and taking a ton of pictures. These could be the last pictures of me not having cancer, I thought.

The call from my ob-gyn came later that day: I had breast cancer in my right breast, and it had spread to my right lymph node. He gave me the name of a surgeon at UCLA and encouraged me to leave NYC immediately and get back home to L.A.

When we were at the airport, on our way home, I told my husband that our children are my legacy, and he had to take good care of them and teach them to remember me. I thought I was dying that day.

“I remember going to breakfast with my husband, then walking around and taking a ton of pictures. These could be the last pictures of me not having cancer, I thought.”

My husband was a rock. I never saw him break once—until he had to call his parents and say out loud, “Eva has breast cancer.” It took him a long time to be able to say those words without crying.

I knew then that I wanted to document my experience. I wanted to make sure my kids would know me. I wanted a visual reminder of what I was about to go through. I didn’t want to forget. I didn’t want to be one of those people who goes through breast cancer and then forgets the hard times, so I decided to start filming every step of my journey for a documentary.

I was recovering from my first surgery when I got a call from my oncologist. The cancer had metastasized up and down my spine and into my liver. It was stage IV breast cancer—also known as metastatic breast cancer—which is considered terminal. I remember lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, while my husband started making calls to our friends and family members. I didn’t just have cancer; I had incurable cancer.

<cite class="credit">Courtesy of Eva Crawford</cite>
Courtesy of Eva Crawford

The next day we went back to the doctor to discuss the full results of my PET scan. I was with my mom, a friend, and my husband. The doctor asked if I wanted to be in the room when she delivered my results. I said no. I waited in the lobby as they discussed how the cancer had spread everywhere—to my liver, bones, and skull. I would soon learn that I’d need immediate surgery to put a rod in my leg because my left hip was about to break from the metastasis. I was in shock. I had just run a 5K and was a regular at Orangetheory. Now my hip was about to break?

Rounds of chemotherapy ensued, each one making me feel as if I had been hit by a truck. I had a party to celebrate the completion of every round, which gave me something to look forward to. Because I was responding well to the chemo, I got the green light to get a lumpectomy, followed by several weeks of radiation, which basically burned off the skin on my right breast. It was awful. But it was working.

Earlier this year my scans were pretty clear. I started traveling again, and I spent back-to-back weekends raising money to fund breast cancer research. Life was good. Then I got another call from my oncologist.

“I was just looking at the results of your brain scan,” she said. (I get one every six months.) “There’s a small spot on your cerebellum. This is something we’re going to have to discuss.”

<cite class="credit">Courtesy of Eva Crawford</cite>
Courtesy of Eva Crawford

I already had an appointment scheduled to get my chemotherapy infusion, which I get every three weeks and will continue to get for the rest of my life. But now we needed to talk about how the cancer had spread to my brain, and my new treatment plan, which included radiation.

I was hysterical.

I had been doing so well—and now this. What if these are the last years of my life? I wondered. How am I going to look at my kids again and tell them this? I wanted so badly to raise them. I know people who have lived with metastatic breast cancer for 18 years. I wanted to be one of those people.

“There’s this beautiful slow pace about life now that I had never experienced before. It forces me to be present, and that is the ultimate gift.”

After recovering from the traumatic brain episode, I got more bad news: The cancer had spread somewhere new, this time to my right lung. Although they are tiny little spots, every new discovery forces a change in my treatment plan. Because there are a limited number of treatment options and a limited amount of time each plan could potentially work, the goal is to stay with the same treatment plan for as long as possible.

<cite class="credit">Courtesy of Eva Crawford</cite>
Courtesy of Eva Crawford

I’m trying to take everything day by day. I just celebrated my 44th birthday. In six weeks I’ll get another scan to determine whether I need to jump to the next line of treatment. Whatever it takes me to persevere on this earth.

Pre-cancer, I worked as a pharmaceutical rep. I’m now retired. I live right by the beach in Ventura. My attitude remains positive, as it’s always been. I get to hang out with my husband and kids. There’s this beautiful slow pace about life now that I had never experienced before. It forces me to be present, and that is the ultimate gift. There’s a 100% chance that we’re all going to die, so the question is: How do you want to live?

Originally Appeared on Glamour