Perhaps you have seen the petition by Kimala Clark on Facebook asking the Komen foundation to change the focus of where it spends its money. The petition points out that the 40,000 women who will die from breast cancer in the United States this year will die from metastatic breast cancer. It’s not cancer in our breasts that kills us; it’s the cancer that invades our lungs, liver, brains, or other vital organs. The petition asserts:
“Stage IV breast cancer gets less than 3% of all funding allocated toward research. We need this to change. 30% of breast cancers will become metastatic, therefore, we are asking that 30% of allocated funds be devoted to stage IV research. 30 for 30, if you will. We should all be "aware", but the real cure will come from research!”
I “hang out” with many metastatic patients in online support groups, and know that they often dread October with its pink ribbons and jewelry. To many of them, pink seems to prettify the ugliness of cancer--an ugliness they see in their own bodies every day.
They understand that research into how cancer spreads and kills will help all cancer patients, not just those whose cancer has metastasized. They know that many of the pink products they see advertised during October will give very little of the money to the kinds of basic research that will ultimately bring a cure.
The Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN), a national, non-profit patient advocacy group, is giving a face to these women. Everyday this month a different woman with metastatic breast cancer is featured on the website. This group lobbied for a national day of recognition for metastatic breast cancer, and in 2009 Congress designated October 13 as Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
The MBCN is sponsoring a conference, “Moving Forward with Metastatic Breast Cancer” at Northwestern University, Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, in Chicago October 12-13, 2012. The conference will provide an opportunity for women with metastatic disease to meet each other and learn about the types of metastatic breast cancer, the newest treatments, and coping strategies for living with the disease.
It hardly seems fair that in a month when we will be bombarded with pink, we will take just a day to think about these beautiful women who will confront the conflicts of metastatic disease every day for the rest of their lives. Most of us breast cancer patients will have our treatment and stay well while in the back of our minds, we worry, “Will it come back?”
Sometimes we turn our faces from those who are traveling the journey we fear. We crave the balloons, the ribbons, all the feel-good messages about early detection. In the interest of getting women to the doctor, we have pushed the message that they can survive and conquer cancer.
There is no doubt that finding cancer at Stage I instead of Stage III saves lives and extends survival. Although some Stage I patients will develop metastases five, ten, or even 20 years after treatment, they lived much longer than if they were diagnosed initially at a later stage. Yet all the optimism about beating breast cancer has in some way backfired on us.