Hear My Voice: Moving Beyond Awareness

AnnbyKorn1Ann Silberman wants readers to think critically and fund research to help people with metastatic breast cancer reach their goals and milestones.

 

It seemed slightly odd to be asked to write for a website called “Living Beyond Breast Cancer” when, as a woman with metastatic breast cancer, it is only my family who will live beyond cancer. I will merely live with breast cancer until it kills me.  But so much of Pink October has so little to do with those of us who are metastatic that I agreed that our metastatic voices need to be heard this month.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with Stage IIA HER2-positive breast cancer. I did the normal treatment for my diagnosis; mastectomy first, then “TCH” which is 6 rounds of Taxotere and Carboplatin and a year of Herceptin. I cried the night before I lost my breast, I smiled as the nurses handed me my chemo graduation certificate, and my last Herceptin treatment brought great relief. My year of endurance had ended and now I could get fully back to my life.

At my very first 3 month post-treatment appointment, my doctor sent me for a scan, which brought the devastating news: breast cancer had spread to my liver. My cancer is now incurable.

And so I did as we all do – I searched for survival statistics, read stories of struggle and death, and learned acceptance.  I figured out how to live with a terminal illness (and was not always graceful about it).  Finally, I set a goal: I would see my son graduate from high school.

Over the course of the next three years, I was sicker than I ever thought anybody could be, but my doctor did not give up on me, and I did not give up on trying for my son. I had half my liver removed in an effort to eradicate the liver mets, only to find they grew right back. I nearly died from c-diff sepsis that landed me in the ICU and then left me recovering at home, weak and sick, for months. I struggled through 7 different chemotherapy drugs, each with their own side effects, until my marrow would no longer recover and my immune system was gone. I did SBRT radiation on the mets that continued to mutate. And, finally, I was put on Perjeta, which I call my miracle. My mets disappeared into the ether and in May of 2014, I not only watched my Valedictorian son walk with his high school class, but also this September I took him to his college, Caltech, settled him in, and even made his dorm room bed. Despite the odds, I reached my goal. Continue reading

Hear My Voice: The Hope of Many Summers After a Metastatic Triple-Negative Diagnosis

Annie GoodmanNew York journalist Annie Goodman discusses the realities of a metastatic triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis, and living her life with more hope and less fear.

 

Maybe it’s all in my head. I can’t have brain tumors. Maybe I’m just depressed and need psychiatric help.

After discovering a lump, I was diagnosed with stage IIB triple-negative breast cancer on February 29, 2012. I was 30 years old with no family history of cancer. I had a mastectomy, reconstruction, four rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan and 12 rounds of Abraxane chemotherapy. While in treatment, I found out I had the BRCA1 mutation. On November 30, 2012, I finished radiation and my doctor declared I was in remission.

I went back to normal life. I enjoyed having a healthy appetite again. My hair grew back. I went back to work full-time. Having cancer was no longer all I could think about. It started to become a memory, and I loved life as a survivor.

Due to the BRCA1 mutation, I had to go for ultrasounds of my ovaries every six months. My first screening was perfect. In November 2013, I went for my second ultrasound, and as soon as I got into work, my doctor’s office called: I needed to come in immediately. My right ovary was 11 cm. A normal ovary is 3 cm.  Continue reading

Hear My Voice: From Cancer Mess to Organizational Success…

Katherine O'BrienKatherine O’Brien didn’t let being messy get in the way of organizing for metastatic breast cancer advocacy, awareness and support.

I have been living with a small volume of bone mets since 2009. In some respects, I think my metastatic breast cancer shares some of my character flaws. We know that cancer represents cellular chaos—all cancers start because abnormal cells grew out of control.

I can’t say that I am out of control, exactly, but I will confess to being a messy person. Organizational skills have never been my strong suit. I have purchased many filing systems, sorters, tote boxes, but inevitably I always default to my H&P ways: Heaps & Piles. Heaps of things represent unstable stacks—assorted mail pieces, notebooks, brochures, various business cards that spring up on my desk like toadstools after days of rain. Piles have fewer shape variations and more structural stability: I have piles of books on my coffee table, piles of CDs on an end table and, of course, piles of laundry.

If I were a neater person, I would probably be a far more efficient person. But at 48 years old, I am just happy to muddle along. I am glad my cancer—so far—seems to have this same attitude. It is too disorganized and lackadaisical to do too much. Let’s face it: I am the Oscar Madison of the metastatic world, too.

I thought of all of these things yesterday when I heard Joan Lunden actually say the words “metastatic breast cancer” on television as part of a story to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In prior years, such coverage focused almost exclusively on early-stage breast cancer. They never acknowledged either the 150,000 U.S, people living with metastatic breast cancer or the 40,000 U.S. people who die from it annually. Continue reading

It’s About You: Kate Garza’s Story

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KateGarza2 for 5 28Kate Garza is back with a new blog post for our fall conference blogging series, It’s About You. The yoga instructor, writer, wife and mother of three discusses the “breast cancer journey” concept, while discussing her own and her anticipation of Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences.

Everyone calls it a journey – the breast cancer journey. And if I weren’t so sick of that term, I would use it, too. It is descriptive to a point, and it allows other people to remember that you are not living the life you had in mind anymore. But this so-called “journey” is really more the life equivalent of being kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a car and driven in the dark to an unknown location. That’s the image that flares in my mind anyway, when I hear “journey with breast cancer,” a junket with only sketchy clues about where you may end up. 

I was diagnosed with stage II invasive breast cancer at age 53, almost 2 years ago now, when my kids were 15, 16 and 17 years old. Life would have been complex enough with three kids moving up and out, but throw breast cancer on top of that project and I had more moving parts than I could track with sophisticated software. 

I had a fairly garden variety diagnosis of estrogen receptor-positive/HER2-negative breast cancer. I followed the standard treatment with lumpectomy, 8 cycles of chemo and 30 doses of radiation therapy. It was the most difficult health crisis I had run across in my life and treatment left me exhausted and brain-fried, but grateful that I traversed without complication. I finished a week before number one graduated from high school. After a month off for R&R, I began taking an aromatase inhibitor (AI), letrozole. 

After 3 months of difficult joint pain side effects, I switched to anastrozole. Again, the difficulties with pain and mobility arrived, but I stayed with the second medicine for 6 months until, completely frustrated and full of pain with every movement, I gave up. I was done. I couldn’t see the point of prolonging a life that felt this bad. Did I mention that I am a yoga instructor? I couldn’t move. Not even enough to practice the yoga that might help me feel better. And working, in my chosen profession, was out of the question. So by the time my second child graduated this past June, I was 2 months into my medication vacation and starting to feel much better. I could move again. Pain with walking and the sleepless nights were beginning to fade away.  Continue reading

Getting On Track – LBBC’s Reimagined Fall Conference

emailHeader760x160Our annual fall conference features three tracks because breast cancer is not just one disease. Clifford A. Hudis, MD, chief of the breast medicine service and attending physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, wrote this blog post about the reasons for these tracks and how breast cancer treatment became more individualized. A member of LBBC’s medical advisory board, Dr. Hudis will lead our morning plenary session on metastatic breast cancer. 

Hudis_lbbcblogpostGiven LBBC’s recognition that not all breast cancer is the same and not all patients need the same information, it is natural to see that the annual fall conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, is organized in tracks that enable participants to most efficiently focus on what they find to be most relevant. 

Not Just One Disease

Starting with oncology pioneer George Beatson’s 1896 report that some, but not all, women with advanced breast cancer responded to treatment that reduces estrogen in the body, it was clear that we confront more than one, uniform disease. The subsequent description of the estrogen receptor by cancer researcher Elwood Vernon Jensen in 1958 simply allowed us to test for what we already knew – that some cancers are more or less likely to respond to hormone therapies.

The more recent description of the human epidermal growth factor receptor–2 (HER2) and the development of effective treatments that target it added another dimension to “binning” breast cancers. With effective hormone and anti-HER2 therapies we can no longer pretend that cancer is cancer is cancer. One size does not fit all, and one disease is not the same as another.  Continue reading

LBBC’s Annual Fall Conference is for You!

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LBBC’s Annual Fall Conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, has a new look and feel. Catherine Ormerod, VP of Programs and Partnerships shares her highlights for the conference, taking place on Saturday, September 27, 2014 Philadelphia, PA.

Catherine-Ormerod 1Breast cancer research and treatments are constantly changing. It can be difficult to stay current with and understand the impact of these changes on you and your life. That’s why we have adapted this conference to connect you to trusted specific information. Consulting with some of the nation’s leading health specialists, this year’s conference will offer tracks to help you access the specific information that you’re seeking.

At the Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences conference you will get the unique medical information you seek for your specific type of breast cancer, while connecting you to others in a supportive environment. Our tracks are:

  • Triple-negative: presented in partnership with Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation
  • Hormone receptor-positive or HER2-positive
  • Metastatic

You can choose to follow a track or attend individual sessions based on your diagnosis or concerns. Our sessions will include information about the latest in breast cancer news, treatments and care and wellness. They will be presented by renowned breast cancer experts such as Virginia Borges, MD, MMSc; Clifford A. Hudis, MD; Rita Nanda, MD and Marisa C. Weiss. Topics will range from targeted therapies, metastatic breast cancer clinical trials, managing the side effects of chemotherapy and more, plus an engaging closing plenary, Thriving! A Discussion on Living Well – Body, Mind and Soul.

Attending a conference is a great way to not only get the latest information, but to connect with others and build a community of support. We often hear how long lasting friendships were created at LBBC conferences. I encourage you to take advantage of the many ways to share your experience – there will be breaks throughout the day, a special luncheon, closing reception and meetup groups organized by shared interests.

Registration for the conference is $50 per person but if you register before September 5th you will receive our early-bird discounted rate of $40 per person. We offer a limited number of travel grants and fee waivers on a first come, first served basis. Special thanks to Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation’s for its support of travel grants to women diagnosed with triple-negative disease.

Visit lbbc.org/fallconference to register for the conference, apply for a fee waiver or travel grant and to learn more about our speakers and conference sessions.

I hope you can join us in Philadelphia this September!

Catherine Ormerod
VP, Programs and Partnerships, Living Beyond Breast Cancer
cormerod@lbbc.org
P.S. – Follow #LBBCconf on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for conference updates, staff picks on where to eat in our hometown of Philadelphia, what to see and much more!

Do You Have Any Idea How Beautiful You Are?

Musser_Barbara_2014Breast cancer can drum up many complex emotions and thoughts for those who are newly diagnosed, especially around body image. Barbara Musser, CEO and founder of Sexy After Cancer, writes about the importance of defining your own beauty and invites you to learn how to do this by joining us for our free webinar at noon ET/11 a.m. CT on Tuesday, May 20, held in partnership with Susan G. Komen of Greater Kansas City

Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment is a big challenge that goes on for quite a while. On top of that, it’s easy to feel like less of a woman, especially with altered or removed breasts, instant menopause resulting from chemo or hormonal therapies and other physical changes that can happen.  There’s not a lot of conversation about our body image, self-esteem and self-love and our intimate and sexual lives. And yet these are the subjects that have the most to do with the quality of our lives.

It’s the elephant in the room that no one mentions. Partly it’s because these aren’t easy topics to broach and partly because we don’t know to ask about them if we don’t know what to expect. You may have experienced this spiral. Continue reading