So, this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and everything, part of my goal of writing 31 posts this month is to reflect on the BC ‘experience’. Last year, all I wanted to do was head to Upper Mongolia for a month because I was having a hard time processing all of the heightened ‘awareness’ of a disease that had left me a bit traumatized. At the same time, I was also soaking up information to try to make sense of things–but with few outlets to discuss my research and grapple with my understanding.
One of the things I was getting a crash course in was metastatic or Stage IV breast cancer. Yes, the deadly kind. This is when the breast cancer spreads to other parts of your body and there is no cure. Yes, there are treatments, BUT THERE IS NO CURE for this disease. I had a mastectomy and am on Tamoxifen after being diagnosed with Stage I Breast Cancer in December 2011 and am currently showing NED (No Evidence of Disease), but I was NOT cured. Back in the early days of my diagnosis, I thought that if I didn’t stage at Stage IV from the get go and my doctors could stop my breast cancer from getting outside of my breast, I would be all free and clear for the rest of my life. Yes, I might have a recurrence of my other breast, but I didn’t think I should fear metastasis in my liver, bones or lungs. Who woulda thunk it? I thought the women who died of breast cancer didn’t catch it early enough. Didn’t you?
What I have learned is that 30% of those diagnosed with breast cancer end up with Stage IV breast cancer at some point in their lives. 30%. Almost 1 in 3. And it isn’t one of those, oh, if you make it out of the 5 year mark, you’re all good. Nope. My oncologist informed me this past year, that with my original breast cancer being ER+, that 5 year mark is when I really need to become vigilant. 5, 10, 20, 30 years from now, my cancer could return, not just as a recurrence, but as metastatic breast cancer. I have a 30% chance. Considering I had a 30% chance of getting this lovely disease in the first place, I am justified in being a bit concerned.
But what about all of the money that goes to breast cancer awareness??? Think pink and everything will be ok. Just get those mammograms! Didn’t a mammogram save my life? If only it were that easy. Mammograms aren’t a magic pill. They are a detection device. A detection device that is not 100% accurate and that often overlooks cancers in breasts with dense tissues. Yes, my 1st mammogram ended up being suspicious and I was subsequently diagnosed with BC and was treated. However, at this point, there is no cure. 40,000 women and men are dying of breast cancer each year. That is pretty much the same number as 20-30 years ago. No change and yet breast cancer organizations have one of the best fundraising track records.
Anyway, I plan to ramble this month on this topic further as well as a few others. I also plan to honor the 30% that have ended up with metastatic breast cancer by focusing at least 30% of this month’s posts on metastatic breast cancer in some way, from research to individual stories.
Thanks for joining me.