A lot of people out there hear the words breast cancer and think that's it. That the breast cancer you have, is the same one I have, and the same one your mom had, and the same one your fish had, etc. But that couldn't be farther from the truth. There are many subtypes of breast cancer (such as inflammatory breast cancer, and triple negative breast cancer), and the different subtypes respond differently to treatments. There are also different stages of breast cancer. Breast cancer is classified as stage 0-4. Stage 0, 1, and 2 are generally seen as those for which early detection is key (but, FYI, being young doesn't guarantee an early stage diagnosis, and being older doesn't guarantee a later stage one.Jjust something to keep in mind when you find out your 30 year old friend was just diagnosed and you think saying, "at least they found it early" is a good idea. Hint, hint, it's not). On average, early stages tend to have the best responses to treatment, and the best chances for remission. Stage 3 is a later stage, but one that doctors still believe is "curable" with the right treatment. Stage 4, now, that's the "bad one". That's the one that scares people away. Otherwise known as metastatic disease, this is when the cancer spreads beyond it's primary location (i.e. the breast) and infiltrates other parts of the body, such as bones and organs. This sucks. This royally sucks. Treatments are more difficult, side effects are sometimes debilitating, and the cancer is no longer seen as curable (ugh, seriously, can we just stop using that word, until we actually find a cure?).
I've heard doctors say that once you have cancer, you always have it, as there are microscopic cells that remain in your body. These cells can roam around for years (remission) or they can find a home somewhere outside the primary cancer location. Having metastatic cancer means the cancer has scoped out the real estate and likes what it sees. So much in fact, that it keeps buying up new land and building properties on it. My homeowners association seems to be powerless to evict it, so the best I, or any of us can do, is trust our doctors and the treatments they make available to us, to put up fences and keep the cancer from taking over the whole neighborhood.
While a diagnosis of stage 4 is devastating, and the treatment options may become fewer, Metastatic cancer is not, I repeat, not, an automatic death sentence. Just like early stage cancer doesn't guarantee the cancer wont recur as a later stage. That's right, your loved one that was "lucky" to have been diagnosed at stage 1, now, not too long after, has been diagnosed with stage 4. And you're shocked, right? Well, you shouldn't be. This is cancer. It's unpredictable and does whatever the hell it wants. Stage 4 is no more of a death sentence than stage 1 is a guarantee of a long, disease free life.
Sorry to be a downer, but it's true. But you don't know that. It's okay (but not really), most people don't. Because most of the awareness campaigns out there focus on early detection, mammograms, etc. Very little information out there focuses on those of us with stage 4, and we want to know, why? What better way to find out how cancer spreads than to study it in people whose cancer is actively spreading? Hmm, can anyone think of a group of people who have actively spreading cancer? (Jeopardy! theme playing...), that's right, what is, people with metastatic cancer? Right now. As I sit here writing this, my cancer is spreading. But instead of being studied, I'm being written off. I, and my fellow metsters band together to get our voices heard, all the while watching our friends get sicker, and succumb to the disease.
But we should be used to that, right? Comes with the territory. We're in a world of death and disease that we're just better able to handle because it's a guaranteed part of our lives with metastatic cancer (ugh, no).
People hear that we have stage 4 cancer and think we've resigned ourselves to die. That all we do is lie around all day getting our affairs in order watching the rest of the world go on, seeing our friends live life without cancer, wishing we were them. That our lives must suck because we have the "bad" cancer. We hear excuses from people who don't want to see us, because they don't want to see death, because dying is ugly and since we have metastatic cancer, we must be dying, or at least look sick. Another misconception brought about by the lack of awareness of metastatic cancer.
I've been told that I look good, healthy, and maybe I do. No, I actually do. I probably look healthier than you. But remember that old saying, don't judge a book by it's cover? Yeah, don't, b/c as healthy as I may look, the reality going on inside my body is nothing I would define as good. Bearable? Maybe. Painful? Often. Shitstorm roller coaster of physical and mental abuse by the cancer in my body? Always. "But you have hair." Yes, I do, thank you for noticing. Know what that means? Just that the current treatment I'm on isn't causing it to fall out... yet. "But you're so active." Yes, but it hurts me to be so, and leaves me exhausted and in terrible pain most nights. Most people assume that because I look healthy, the cancer must be gone, but when they find out I have stage 4 cancer they back away from me, like I'm going to start spewing death all over them. I might spew something (á la a Danny Thomas spit take), but the odds of my dropping dead at your feet at that moment are slim.
Yes, having stage 4 cancer sucks. But I'm still here. Those microscopic cancer cells are no longer invisible, so why do I feel like I am?
You might think your pretty little ribbons are helping everyone with breast cancer, but your $1 (or less) contribution most oftentimes goes to fund mammograms and early detection. Now, while I'm all for early detection if that's the best we can do right now, remember, even those diagnosed with stage 1, or even stage 0, can end up with metastatic breast cancer very soon down the line. Cancer is going to go where it wants to go, and until those of us with stage 4 cancer are really given an opportunity to be studied the shit out of, everyone is at risk. People with metastatic cancer have a lot to offer the cancer community. We're not just reminders of "how bad things can get."
You know what people with stage 4 cancer call life with cancer? Life. Plain and simple. We make adjustments to live our lives with the new normal having cancer has created for us.
We're not done yet.
It's difficult and emotionally draining at times, but me? I like life, and I plan on hanging on as long as I can, doing my best to make people aware that research is what needs to be focused on, and metastatic cancer is the key to ending the destruction that cancer creates.
Don't write me off, don't ignore me, don't pity me. And most importantly... don't stop me. But please, stop the cancer.