Where are Breast Mets in the "Feel Good" Campaign of October?

Stage 4 Breast Cancer
Stage 4 Breast Cancer. Art © Pam Stephan

When you look at the Internet and print media, TV shows and marketing campaigns that sell an array of products supporting breast cancer causes during the commercial “feel good “ campaign of Pink October, you would think that breast cancer is primarily a disease affecting healthy young women. Not so!  While young, attractive faces sell products, they represent a small segment of those affected by breast cancer each year.

Missing in almost all of these campaigns featuring young women... photos of young women identified as having metastatic breast cancer, often referred to as Stage 4 breast cancer.

More than 11,000 young women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. If we take the American Cancer Society estimates of about 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women in 2015, and deduct out the 11,000 for women, under 45 years, that leaves about 220,840 cases in women 45- 85+ diagnosed in 2015. That’s a lot of women not featured in most Pink October media.

Men are starting to draw some recognition for the 2,000+ men, each year, diagnosed with breast cancer, and the 440+ men dying from the disease annually thanks to organizations such as the Male Breast Cancer Coalition.

Despite excellent organizational outreach and advocacy focusing on the situations and needs of women living with metastatic disease, women with Stage 4 breast cancer are underrepresented in most Pink October “Feel Good” campaigns.

Yet, who needs a cure for breast cancer more than women whose cancer cannot be cured? Women with metastatic disease will take treatments that are physically and emotionally draining until those treatments don’t work for them anymore.

Given that young women get breast metastases in numbers significant enough to warrant attention, you would think campaigns featuring young women with metastatic cancer could do so much good in raising public awareness.

Such campaigns could spearhead raising research funding for finding a cure for a disease that currently receives less than 2% of all research funding raised for breast cancer.

There is a day, October 13th, which is set aside as National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day in the U.S. One day doesn’t seem enough when you consider that metastatic breast cancer takes 40,000 lives each year. Estimates place the number of women living with metastatic breast cancer, at any given time, at over 155,000.

Who are considered to have a metastatic disease? Women who are Stage 4 at their initial diagnosis, and those who had an early stage breast cancer that reoccurred in a distant organ are considered metastatic. About 6-10% of all newly diagnosed breast cancers are metastatic. 20-30% of all breast cancers will become metastatic.

Living with metastatic disease is very different than living with earlier stage cancers.Treatment is never ending. Expenses related to treatment are ongoing. Drugs treating metastatic cancer can be more expensive and have more powerful side effects.

Testing to measure the effectiveness of various drugs has to be ongoing.

For the past 8 years, I’ve witnessed metastatic breast cancer take its toll on a dear friend. Her journey began at 31years old, six months after the birth of her second child. Concerned about a lump she found in her breast, she saw her primary-care physician who reassured her that it was probably a blocked milk duct, as she was nursing. He reassured her that since she did not have breast cancer in her family, and she was so young, that breast cancer was not a concern. Six months later, when pain brought her back to the doctor, she insisted upon a mammogram, which showed something suspicious for cancer in both breasts.

A biopsy confirmed two highly aggressive tumors, one in each breast. Following a bi-lateral radical mastectomy, she had over a year of chemotherapy. Her mother-in-law cared for her 4 year old daughter and 1 year old son through her long months of treatment.

Finally, treatment was over and she got on with her life. Then sixteen years later a lump appeared on her chest wall. Tests and biopsies confirmed metastatic breast cancer in her lungs, brain, bones and liver.

She began chemo on a once every 2-week schedule. As her cancer became resistant to a drug, a new drug was introduced and her treatment schedule reduced to once a week, every week.

She will be the first to say she is grateful to be cared for at a fantastic cancer center, have good health insurance, a loving family, and the support of friends. She has lived to see her son graduate college.

My friend is just one of thousands of women with metastatic breast cancer who want to see their children grown and able to care for themselves. 

If you or a loved one is living with metastatic disease there are organizations that can give you information and support.  Here are a few:

Metastatic Breast Cancer Network-http://mbcn.org/


Stage IV for Life Metastatic Breast Cancer Foundation-http://www.stageivlifembcf.org/

Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance-http://www.mbcalliance.org/

National Breast Cancer Foundation-http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/metastatic-breast-cancer

Young Survival Coalition - https://www.youngsurvival.org/

Living Beyond Breast Cancer  http://www.lbbc.org

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