You may think getting the news at the age of 28 that you have Stage 2 breast cancer is the worst thing that will ever happen to you. In May 2014, that was my reality and at the time, that seemed to be the case. However, finding out, three years later in May 2017, that you have Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer is far, far worse. Newly married, with an incredible 10-year-old son, a great career and only 31 years old, life as I knew it is now flipped completely upside down.
Stage IV, metastatic triple negative breast cancer with metastasis in my lungs, liver, brain and bones. Words like “terminal” and “quality of life” and “one to two year prognosis” were suddenly a part of my everyday conversation as I will be in some type of treatment for the rest of my life.
In the four months since my new diagnosis, I’ve had a chest port placed to receive treatment, a liver biopsy, six rounds of chemotherapy, and taken to the emergency room on three separate occasions for debilitating side effects. I also had an emergency craniotomy to remove the grapefruit-sized mass from my frontal lobe that cost me all my peripheral vision — meaning I can no longer drive. I’ve also had three rounds of CyberKnife radiation to my brain, countless MRIs/CT scans/bone scans/etc., and my insurance deductible for the entire year was met less than six weeks after my diagnosis.
This is not the breast cancer you hear about during Breast Cancer Awareness Month each October. It’s not pretty and it kills everyone affected by it. It’s not buying a can of soup because the label is pink this month and posting a pink ribbon as your Facebook picture for a day or two. Awareness is amazing, there no mistaking that. I am grateful every year when I hear that more mammograms are scheduled in October than any other month of the year. Women’s lives are saved every day by catching breast cancer in the early stages and that is an amazing thing.
But the reality is, one in three of those women will have their cancer come back regardless of how early it was detected. Currently there are 150,000 women living with metastatic breast cancer in the United States and every single one of us will die from this disease unless a cure is found. There are treatment options to keep us alive as long as possible, and there are lucky women who live 10, 15, 20 years with this disease but they are the minority. Less than 25 percent of us are alive five years after our diagnosis. The solution to changing this is promoting and supporting research.
Just in the past year, there have been many exciting advances in the world of cancer research and we need to funnel as much money and resources into seeing this continue. Breast cancer is tricky because there are so many different kinds and no “one size fits all” cure that will magically make metastatic breast cancer go away. However, by supporting organizations with research as their primary mission, we can hope to find answers as to why this disease continues to spread, especially amongst younger women, and we can truly one day “find a cure.”
We are fortunate in Ohio to have amazing local resources we should support, that I believe strike a great balance between supporting research that will hopefully save my life and still support early stage survivors.
For those of us living every day with terminal cancer, breast cancer isn’t just a month of pink. It’s a daily fight for our lives and our families. It’s balancing your pain meds with your nausea meds so you can get out of bed and take your son to school and do a load of laundry without needing a nap because just those simple actions have worn you out completely. So please, as you’re putting on your pink sweatshirt or saving that pink yogurt lid, really think about the impact on those of us struggling every day. Support the research that will identify a cure and save so many lives.
Catriona Martin is a resident of Canal Winchester who is a breast cancer survivor recently diagnosed with metastatic Stage 4 breast cancer.