Thanks: NJTV News.org
By Emily Helck, The Real Tumors of New Jersey
For all the pink triumphal arches, for all the celebration of survivors, there’s one group of breast cancer patients that the average person does not see splashed across the pages of a magazine: people with metastatic, or stage 4, breast cancer. Metastatic cancer is when breast cancer cells take up residence elsewhere in the body, like the bones, lungs, or brain, and grow there.
The five-year survival rate for metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is about 20%. Of patients diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, 20 – 30% of patients will go on to develop stage 4 disease.
Each year, about 40,000 people die from breast cancer in the United States. My friend Sherri was one of those 40,000.
I met Sherri online, on breastcancer.org. We both started chemo in September of 2012, after having both been diagnosed over the summer with stage 1 cancer.
We both had bilateral mastectomies, and we both held a giant party right before surgery. Mine was called A Farewell to Boobs, hers was Say Ta Ta to the Ta-tas. We were both on the young side. We were both scared. Revisiting her blog today I was struck by her joy, her will, her generosity. Her gratitude, even in the face of so much loss.
She invited friends and wore a tiara to her last infusion of taxol in 2013, and her party got so raucous they got kicked out of the chemo suite. She took her medicine, she bucked up. She said f**** cancer. She did it all. And still. And still. She found that the cancer had metastasized in September 2013. More chemo, then radiation. Then, last month, she died. She did it all. She held up her end of the “early detection, stay positive” bargain. And still.
Fifteen years ago, my beautiful, incredibly kind and creative aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, and seven years ago, she died. She was brave, she was powerful. She took her medicine. And still. And still.
40,000 Americans die of this disease each year. That’s more than the number of Americans who died in the Korean War, every year. That’s more people than fit into Fenway Park, every year. And still, metastatic breast cancer receives less than 5% of the research funding devoted to breast cancer.
In July of 2012 Emily Helck was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a bilateral mastectomy, did chemo, radiation, and a biologic treatment called Herceptin. She’s currently enrolled in a clinical trial for a breast cancer vaccine.