As I left the White House event as one of 15 Champions of Change in the effort to end breast cancer, these things I know for sure. First, breast cancer every day shortens the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and causes families to lose mothers, sisters, wives and grandmas all too soon. This must stop. Second, every cancer organization in the United States must work to protect the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Without access to quality, affordable, accessible health care, no one has a chance of beating breast cancer or any other cancer. The Affordable Care Act keeps insurers from dropping the insurance of those who suddenly receive a diagnosis of breast cancer; removes lifetime limits; and insures that those who have a prior existing condition, like breast cancer, can still purchase health insurance.
Third, as a patient with advanced or metastatic breast cancer, I know that we will only end deaths from breast cancer if we target our resources strategically to research what is unknown about breast cancer. That is, we must demand research that figures out what causes metastasis or the spread of cancer cells outside the breast to bone, lung, liver and brain. Because we do not know what causes metastasis, we do not know how to keep it from occurring in those with early breast cancer who think they have been successfully treated for their cancer. Among early stage breast cancer patients, 20 to 30 percent will go on to develop invasive or metastatic breast cancer 5 to 10 years later. My early breast cancer metastasized 12 years later.
I urge those who care about ending breast cancer to join with the efforts of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. There you will see how we at NBCC have set a deadline to end breast cancer by the end of the decade. You may think a deadline can’t stop a terrible disease, but a deadline creates a common, clear focus of strategic resources among a group of committed individuals who lobby scientists, researchers, clinicians and policy makers to change the conversation and find out what causes metastasis. We can do this and together our efforts will make a difference!
Finally, to those with Stage IV breast cancer, I urge you to speak out and use your voice to demand that our needs be addressed within the breast cancer community. I liken our situation to the early 80s when men were dying of AIDS and no one seemed to care. Like those brave AIDS patients who refused to be quiet, metastatic breast cancer patients need to speak out and demand more targeted treatments to end the spread of the disease so we can live with the cancer as people live today with AIDS or diabetes. They now live with a chronic disease for normal life spans. Visit the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network where you will find support, education and information.