It’s About Time we put priority on funding for metastatic breast cancer research.
When I heard my oncologist say the words, “Your breast cancer is back, it is now in your lungs,” I immediately thought that since I had beaten it once before, I would beat it again. She cried while explaining to me that it isn’t how it works; that I didn’t beat it the first time, and there isn’t any beating it now. I am an optimistic person by nature, but I became more of a realist when I learned about metastatic breast cancer. No cure? Fact: No, none.
I have triple negative breast cancer. That means the tumor doesn’t have any of the 3 possible receptors typical of breast cancer so we can’t “starve” the tumor with the more common forms of treatment. Digging deeper to get more information for a clinical trial, I learned that now that I was stage IV, the average life span fell to 12 months. I got rejected from the clinical trial. The doctor who gave my second opinion told me not to bother traveling all that way and I should just enjoy the time I had left with my husband and 3 kids. At that time they were ages 10, 7, and 4.
I did just that. I dove off the diving board at the public pool just to feel the cold water on my skin, played with the kids at the park in the middle of the night, took amazing trips, and over-enthusiastically volunteered at PTA sponsored events. I wanted to live every minute fully, but that was difficult because chemo was so hard physically and mentally. No matter how hard we laughed or how much fun we had, we could burst into tears at any given second. The grief was always right below the surface.
When I felt like my body (or perhaps it was my mind) couldn’t take any more of the chemotherapy, I begged my oncologist for a break. I couldn’t imagine being on this for the rest of my life! Then we tried something that was new to my area, the Cyber Knife machine. We treated the tumor with a specific beam of radiation with little or no damage to the surrounding tissue and I had no side effects!
I regained my strength and went back to doing martial arts with my kids. I was frequently at the doctors for checkups which slowly grew farther apart. It has now been 5 years since I’ve had any evidence of disease. In the last 5 years, I had earned my first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, went for my second degree and most recently, my third. I train and go to competitions with my kids who are now 16, 13 and 10. In my “bonus years,” I have seen a kindergarten graduation, first communions, confirmations, driver’s license, a sweet 16 party, first place wins and each one of them receiving their first, second and one third degree black belt.
God is good. But I don’t know His plan. I am called an “exceptional responder” because nobody thought I would do this well. Nobody really knows why. The biggest unknown is how long this will last. There is still no cure and there are still so many things I want to be here for. Fact: There is never a good time for my kids to lose their Mama.
I don’t get mad when people don’t understand metastatic breast cancer because I knew nothing about it before all of this either, so I try my hardest to educate. Fact: We are losing too many friends and family to this disease. I lost 7 friends this year, and it is heartbreaking. We need more funding and more research. We just don’t know why some people respond differently to treatment. Fact: We don’t know what will work individually. Please put priority on funding for metastatic breast cancer research so we will know how to treat it, stop it from spreading, and ultimately, cure us. We are dying for a cure.