During the month of October I believe it’s important to recognize all the facts about breast cancer. The month is very focused on pink ribbons and survivors, but there is little awareness or recognition of the 155,000 women and men in the United States who are living with metastatic breast cancer.
Before my own diagnosis, I wasn’t really very aware of what happened when breast cancer spread, or metastasized, to another part of the body such as the bones, liver, lungs or brain. The first time I really had a clear understanding of metastatic breast cancer was when my oncologist explained it to me during our discussions about my treatment options.
I had asked him why he was suggesting such an extensive chemotherapy regimen (4 treatments of Adriamycin/Cytoxan and 12 treatments of Taxol) when I had only Stage 2 cancer and he explained that it was because of the type of cancer I had. He also gently but directly explained that this was the only chance he had to try and kill any/all of the cancer cells that were in my body, and that if there were any cells still left in me after treatment that were to eventually metastasize to another part of my body, he couldn’t really do anything to stop them from spreading.
That scared the s**t out of me, and I have to say it still does, sometimes. But, I’m ever the optimist so here’s how I have learned to live with the ambiguity of this information.
First of all, it’s important to know if your surgeon found evidence of breast cancer in your lymph nodes, as that will give a good indication of whether or not the cancer has traveled to other organs in your body. My lymph nodes were clear, so I’m extremely lucky. But even if there’s no evidence of cancer in my lymph nodes, the cancer could have traveled through my blood stream. Cancer cells are miniscule; a tiny pinhead would hold thousands of them.
Next, as you’ll know about me if you’re a frequent My Left Breast reader, I like to research things in order to feel in control. To help keep myself from being completely paralyzed with fear, I have chosen to read and gain an understanding of metastatic breast cancer so that I am educated and aware of my options, should I ever have Mets. And my research brought me to the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, a national, independent patient advocacy group dedicated to women and men living with metastatic breast cancer.
MBCN has a lot of useful and accurate information about metastatic breast cancer. Below are their 13 facts that everyone should know about metastatic breast cancer. I particularly like to focus on Facts #4 and #11.