Living with stage 4

“Living with stage 4,” By Diane Mapes, Hutch News, Oct. 24, 2014.

In a culture focused on survivorship, those with metastatic breast cancer who will be in treatment for the rest of their lives can feel isolated and misunderstood.

An estimated 155,000-plus women (and men) in the U.S. currently live with “mets,” stage 4 breast cancer that’s metastasized, or traveled, through the bloodstream to create tumors in the liver, lungs, brain, bones and/or other parts of the body. While treatable, metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is incurable, between 20 and 30 percent of women with early stage breast cancer go on to develop MBC. Median survival is three years; annually, the disease takes 40,000 lives.

As with primary breast cancer, treatment for mets can often be harsh and unforgiving.  But dealing with an incurable illness and the side effects of its treatment aren’t the only burden MBC patients have to bear. Many also have to educate others about their disease, explaining over and over that no, the scans and blood tests and treatments will never come to end. No, the metastasized breast cancer in their lungs is neither lung cancer nor linked to smoking. No, staying positive and “just fighting hard” isn’t going to beat back their late-stage disease.

A no-nonsense Texan of 60 years, Jody Schoger has a very no-nonsense way of educating people about her metastatic breast cancer. “Someone will say, ‘When are you done with treatment?’ and I’ll tell them, ‘When I’m dead,’” said Schoger, a writer and cancer advocate who lives near Houston.  “So many people interpret survivorship as going across the board. That everybody survives cancer now. But everybody does not survive cancer.”

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