Today, October 13th, is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
However, for me, every day since November 28, 2017, has been metastatic breast cancer awareness day. Each day, I live with metastatic breast cancer, and it permeates almost everything I do, from medication timing to dietary restrictions, to talk of medical bills to future vacations and family plans where I do not know if I will be around to see to fruition.
Metastatic breast cancer occurs when breast cancer travels to a distant organ, beyond the breast, and is considered end-stage. Stage IV. The treatment protocol for this stage is no longer eradication of the disease, but maintenance as best possible. A game of leap-frog, if you will, with the hope that the cancer will not spread too rapidly or grow so large that the treatments available can no longer hop over it and move ahead. Progression-free survival, it is called. You will live with this disease until you die.
Eventually, all of the treatments available will fail, and the disease will gain the upper hand. Metastatic breast cancer kills 113 people each day, over 40,000 people each year.
When I first received my diagnosis, my breast cancer was believed to be stage 2. It was not believed to have travelled to my lymph nodes, let alone my bones. I shook with fear at the new understanding of my mortality I was confronting. As I underwent my diagnostic biopsy, I sobbed, terrified. A cancer diagnosis at any stage is an unbelievably disruptive presence. In my case, I knew little about the nuances of breast cancer treatment or survival rates. For many people receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, they can assume a warrior stance, with plans to beat the disease, eradicate it from their bodies. There is strength in the challenge, the fight, and that metaphor has survived for decades for a reason. It is powerful juxtapositioning, the valiant and the good versus the evil, the disruptive, the bad. One’s body can prevail over the invading tumor, and equilibrium can, at last, be restored.
The disruption of a cancer diagnosis robs the patient of the much longed-for balance, in ways we only begin to comprehend. Life never returns to normal. But, regardless of the attitude assumed, in that diagnosis, there are so many avenues in which to channel the diagnosis. You can go to battle, you can put your head down and push through the disruption, you can tremble in fear that you’re going to die. You can do any or all of these things.
Not so with stage IV. When you are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, you tremble in fear that you are going to die because, statistically, your life expectancy has just been dramatically shortened.
It’s estimated that 20-30% of early-stage breast cancers will return as metastatic breast cancer. in addition, another 8% of breast cancers will be discovered once they are already metastatic (like mine). Yet this disease only receives approximately 7% of funding toward research.
This is unacceptable.
Stage IV needs more.
We need results-driven research to improve the length and quality of our lives. We need prioritization of metastatic breast cancer research on a national level, by pharmaceutical companies, and through the continued financial support of organizations such as Metavivor, The Cancer Couch Foundation, and Breast Cancer Research Foundation. If you are living with metastatic breast cancer, I urge you to become involved with the MBC Project and donate your tissue samples to the furtherance of innovative metastatic breast cancer research.
Not a single person will go through their life untouched in some way by breast cancer – this disease impacts all of us. Those of us living with metastatic breast cancer are daughters, mothers, siblings, friends – as well as sons and fathers, too. We deserve to be heard, to be given more opportunities to extend our lives beyond the approximately three years that we might live with this disease. We need more – stage IV needs more.
On this day, Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, let’s collectively acknowledge our awareness, and go a step further, through donations, advocacy, and education about both the realities of life with metastatic breast cancer and the desperate need for improved funding of this disease.