Christine LaFave became a breast cancer warrior on Jan. 28, 2013. That’s when she discovered that the lump she felt in her breast was cancerous. After an ultrasound, biopsy and complete body scan, LaFave was left with the diagnosis of stage IV metastatic breast cancer. The cancer has spread to her breastbone, liver and lungs.
“Mine’s a terminal disease. I’m going to die of this,” LaFave knows. “But I’m going to live my life, and I’m going to be happy.”
She is a biology professor at Colgate University. Students established a college fund for her 6-year-old daughter, Grace with $8,000 they raised in a “LaField Day for LaFave” fundraiser that had professors taking turns in a dunk tank. She took leave last spring for chemotherapy and completed radiation therapy at the beginning of fall, when she returned to the classroom.
Now LaFave, 46, sees Dr. Sam Benjamin to undergoes maintenance chemotherapy once a month. She will do that the rest of her life. It leaves her achy for four or five days after infusion.
Her favorite course to teach is the upper level elective, Human Physiology. Her knowledge of the human body, at first, felt like a benefit as she dealt with her own medical appointments. She was determined to scour the medical journals until she discovered how to beat the disease. Then she reached a saturation point and decided to focus on what she needed to do, day by day, to persevere.
“My doctors are amazing,” she says. “I love them so much. They respect me. They talk to me on almost a peer level. I know I don’t have any control of this disease, but it helps me feel like I have a bit of a handle.”
LaFave says survival odds for metastatic cancer are grim, maybe just 2 ½ years. She says there is a 78 percent chance that she won’t be here in five years, when her daughter turns 11.
She remains focused: “One day at a time. Living my life. Loving my life. Doing the things that are important to me.
“This is the hand that I have been dealt, and I am doing everything I can to be as strong as I can.”
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Read the Upstate Health issue with Christine’s story on the cover