Changing The Way I Viewed Stage IV: How I Learned I’m Not Alone

Sheila Johnson-Glover is back on the LBBC blog to talk about the Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer, how it changed the way she saw her diagnosis and connected her with a community of support. Learn about our Ninth Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer, taking place April 11-12, 2015 in Philadelphia.

SheilaJohnsonGlover

Motivating, exciting, empowering, community building, love, strength, laughter and unity – these are the words that describe how I felt during and after I attended my first Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. For me, this conference was a game changer on how I viewed my diagnosis. The event gave me a new hope and a new beginning. I determined then that I would fight and continue to fight and to encourage other’s to attend this conference so they too can make lifelong friendships and get all the updates on research, treatment and support for people living with a stage IV breast cancer diagnosis.

I was diagnosed with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer in December 2009. I had to ask my doctor, “Well how many stages are there?” My doctor responded, “Sheila you have the worst one.” As you can imagine, my heart felt like it had exploded and my whole body went numb. I needed to know more about metastatic breast cancer and meet women like myself who were living with this diagnosis, and learn if they felt the same way I did emotionally and physically. I was a total wreck when I learned I had stage IV breast cancer. I knew nothing about stage IV and I didn’t have anyone I could relate to.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer has been a true blessing in my life. I was introduced to LBBC by my support group, the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program in St Louis, Missouri, and what a joy it’s been! I soon learned about the amazing conferences LBBC hosted, and I thought attending one would be a great opportunity to meet those who understood the same battle that I faced every day. I wanted to ask other people living with stage IV breast cancer questions like how they deal with side effects and what questions I should ask my oncologist. I would later learn that every cancer treatment plan is different but still, I needed to hear from others who understood what I was going through.  Continue reading

Hear My Voice: ‘You Beat it by How You Live’

Norma Pitzer KellyOn Super Bowl Sunday, The NFL Countdown crew aired a tribute to late ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who passed away last month from cancer of the appendix. Hear My Voice blogger Norma Pitzer-Kelly writes about the sports anchor’s decision to share his cancer experience with the public, and how his words can guide those living with stage IV breast cancer.

Stuart Scott died on January 4th, 2015. If you aren’t into sports or have friends and family who watch Sports Center on ESPN, you may have no idea who he is. Stuart was a sportscaster and host on that show. He was a pioneer in sports broadcasting and was well loved by professional athletes, celebrities, co-workers and friends.  He was also a cancer patient.

Stuart fought this disease for 7 years. It started in 2007 with an emergency appendectomy which turned out to be cancer of the appendix. Did you even think cancer of the appendix was a thing? I didn’t. Cancer is an insidious monster and it will attack you anywhere – I know that, and yet I didn’t think about the appendix as being susceptible. I was introduced to Stuart while watching Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts interviewed him last spring.  During that interview, he told the story of his diagnosis, talked about his daughters and his refusal to give up hope.

Stuart was a devoted and loving father, he was an icon in the sports community, and his style and catch phrases will live on, but he, unfortunately, will not. After fighting like a champion with strength, grace and a quiet dignity the monster took his life, and those daughters he was so devoted to will have to live the rest of their lives without him.

I didn’t know Stuart personally, of course. I can’t even say I watched his show on ESPN – I didn’t.  But after following his journey with cancer, I feel sadness at his loss, as if he had been a friend. Having cancer gives you membership into a club you never wanted to join and camaraderie with other “members” that make you feel like old friends even if you’ve never met. As a metastatic breast cancer patient, I have felt this connection to others first hand many times over. Continue reading

Hear My Voice: Living the Life of Clichés (That Are True)

LBBC Blog - Scott Cotlar%27s PhotoScott Cotlar writes about living by common clichés for people affected by metastatic breast cancer.

When I was first diagnosed with metastatic male breast cancer, I was not prepared to make any major changes in my life. There were just a few small lesions in my lungs. I was fully functional, working full-time as an attorney and had no interest in changing my daily routine.

That was about 6 years ago. Fast forward to today – lesions in my lung are “too numerous to count” according to the radiologist’s report; 5 bouts of gamma knife radiation of the brain for a total of 13 lesions treated; radiation to most of my spine; and now large metastatic lesions in my liver. Even with all of this, my good quality of life did not change until…a lesion on my tibia (a bone between the knee and the ankle) gave me an “elevated risk for fracture,” requiring that I wear a leg brace and walk with a cane.

The lesion to my tibia was the game changer. All of a sudden, my quality of life was deeply affected: the simple act of walking was no longer quite so simple. I felt an urgent need to “get my affairs in order.” As I write this blog I am preparing for chemotherapy, which I have done my best to avoid for the past 6 years, taking advantage of any hormonal or targeted therapy that I could get my hands on. I am finally starting to feel like a “real cancer patient.” Continue reading

Hear My Voice: Relationships, Faith and Being Declared NED

Serenity KislingSerenity Kisling blogs about navigating her relationships, her strong faith and being declared no evidence of disease.

As I write, it’s the first day of 2014’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’ll be honest: now that I’ve been declared NED (no evidence of disease), I don’t want to watch the Today show’s #PinkPower, or think about cancer. I am so traumatized by the last 7 years, and wondering if I was going to see my son’s third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh birthdays.

However, I want to reflect on my journey. Despite what I have experienced with my health and my family, I got through this journey with metastatic breast cancer through faith, laughter and by living my life.

First, let me say that the breast cancer journey sucks, no matter if you are lesbian or straight. I was initially diagnosed with stage III ER/PR-positive breast cancer in 2008, at age 35. I had a 2-year-old son and a different partner at the time. At that point, my relationship with my partner was rocky, and she was not very emotionally supportive while I had breast cancer. She had no idea what I was going through: being bald from chemo, becoming so sick because of the chemo that I could not drink or eat anything, ending up neutropenic, dehydrated and in the hospital for a week and developing pneumonia.

In 2009, my then-partner and I celebrated when oncologists declared me in remission. We thought life would go back to normal and not the “new normal” commonly associated with post-treatment — just “normal,” period. It seemed like I was better after finishing treatment. I even went back to my hardcore workouts. But then I started feeling fatigue, and with that came insomnia. Life became miserable for various reasons, and I decided to divorce my partner. It was the hardest decision I have had to make thus far in my life. Through all of this, maintaining my positivity (though hard at times) and my faith got me through this major life change.

Something that made me depressed was that the oncologist who declared I was in remission did not discuss preserving my fertility before I proceeded with chemotherapy, and now it’s too late. I had been in survival mode, I had a beautiful son, and having another child hadn’t crossed my mind. I wish now I had frozen my eggs. I would have loved for my wife to carry my child. Even though I live with this regret, I have come to realize that it may not have been meant to be, and I must accept this and cherish my one beautiful son. 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

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!

emailHeader760x1604_BlogResize

 

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!