Local View: 'My scars are pink, but they're not pretty'
One every 12.74 minutes. One hundred-thirteen every day. More than 40,000 every year. Those are the numbers of lives taken in the United States by metastatic breast cancer (Stage IV). These numbers have remained virtually unchanged for the last 20 years.
One in 10 women and 1 in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer at some time in their lives. Of those people, three of eight will go on to develop metastatic breast cancer, or MBC, the only type of breast cancer that kills. (I should note that some people are diagnosed MBC initially. This is referred to as "de novo.")
So what is the difference between early-stage breast cancer (Stages I-III) and MBC?
Early-stage breast cancers have not moved beyond the breast and surrounding lymph nodes. Treatment may or may not include surgery, chemo, radiation and hormone therapy. It may not seem like it at the time, but there usually is an end to the treatment.
MBC is where the cancer appears in areas distant from the breast. The most typical places are in the bone, liver, or lungs. When it reaches this stage, there is no cure. There are treatments in place that can treat and shrink tumors and help manage pain, but there is no cure. Once you are metastatic, you are in treatment for the rest of your life. As with early-stage breast cancer, that treatment may include surgery, chemo, radiation, hormone therapy, targeted therapies, and more.
The cost of MBC is immeasurable in terms of its impacts on patients and their loved ones. The pain from bone metastasis can severely decrease a patient's mobility. The knowledge that the disease is incurable can and does have an extreme emotional impact. Families suffer because their loved ones suffer.
You get the picture. When I was first diagnosed with MBC, I just wanted to be around long enough to see my youngest, Becca, graduate from high school. Maybe I could be around long enough to become a grandma.
Both of those goals have been met. My new goal is to see Becca graduate from college.
The financial cost of MBC is another story I can only speak about from my personal experience. The medications I'm on, which are currently keeping my disease in check, cost about $10,000 a month. Thank heaven for insurance! Add in the costs of oncology, labs, scans, therapies, and surgeries I've had and will continue to have, and it's not a pretty picture.
"Pretty picture" brings me to my last point. There is nothing pretty — or pink — about breast cancer and MBC in particular. When I was diagnosed early-stage on Aug. 11, 2009, I jumped on the pink bandwagon with both feet. I proudly proclaimed my status as a warrior, as a survivor. Susan G. Komen was my go-to reference. I didn't know I had a three in eight chance of getting MBC.
Reality slapped me across the face in 2013 when a large lesion was found in T11 (my thoracic vertebra 11). I was no longer a warrior or survivor. Now I was dying. Chemo, surgery, and radiation followed. More cancer eventually was found in my spine, liver, and bones. More chemo, more radiation. In 2015, I had surgery to remove and replace the cancerous end of my right femur. More chemo, more radiation. My scars are pink, but they're not pretty.
They do, however, serve as a reminder to not take good health for granted and to avoid the arrogance that sometimes walks hand-in-hand with naivete. Pink is not a cure.
If you wish to donate to an organization whose entire focus is on finding a cure for MBC, I highly recommend Metavivor (metavivor.org); 100 percent of all its donations goes toward finding better treatments and a cure for MBC.
Deanna Larson of Silver Bay used information from the American Cancer Society and Metavivor in writing this commentary.