It’s been more than eight years since Jill McFarland was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She said she feels grateful that she has lived long enough to forget parts of her story, something that not all of those facing the same challenge enjoy.
She has beaten some of the odds, noting that she learned her cancer had metastasized – moved to other parts of the body – in 2019.
“People with metastatic breast cancer have an average life span of 24 to 36 months,” McFarland said. “I’m lucky. I’m about 43.”
“The attitude I try to bring – I can’t say I’m successful all the time – is just go at it as hard as I can, do anything I can to survive to be here with my family,” she said. “I’m not willing to leave them.”
In order to go at it as hard as she can, she sometimes has to miss events in her three daughters’ lives. She has to travel to Cleveland once a month for chemotherapy – “It’s not without its side effects,” she said – and medical appointments “are a full-time job,” whether they be in person or virtual.
She shares the good news while enduring the bad news.
“I lost my mom May 9 and then less than two weeks after that I found that I had brain metastasis in seven areas,” McFarland said Sept. 25. “I underwent the stereotactic gamma knife surgery and I just had my followup for that a couple weeks ago saying there’s no evidence of active disease, which is amazing. I wasn’t really expecting it. I needed that. My family needed that. I tear up just thinking about it.”
She keeps physically active by walking and working out with a Peloton stationary bike, which gives her access to programs on meditation, strength training and yoga.
When she can, she works with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network to advocate for research funding, legislation helpful to cancer patients and awareness.
“A lot of people aren’t that knowledgeable about it,” she said. “It’s not spoken about a lot, the metastatic piece of it.”
Last month, McFarland participated in Cancer Lobby Day in Washington. She met with Ohio’s senators and area representatives, or members of their staff, asking for research funding and support for the Medicare Multi Cancer Early Detection Screening and Coverage Act and the PSA For Him Act, which deals with prostate cancer. She was among about 650 people who fanned out throughout the Capitol, sharing their stories and putting a face to advocacy efforts.
“It’s nice to have everybody in a room and rooting for each other,” McFarland said. “We’re there for the same cause.”
She also represented Ohio in Lights of Hope, an annual event in which luminaries are placed around the reflecting pool of the National Mall. She got to see a large placard featuring a picture of herself and an explanation of her advocacy efforts positioned at the pool.
McFarland also is planning to advocate for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Access to Care Act, which seeks to shorten the waiting periods for Medicare and Social Security disability benefits.
“A lot of people don’t live that long,” she said of the waiting periods.
Her advocacy is all about providing options “for people like me.”
“I’m living it, but I’m living, so, I’m really happy about that.”