Breast cancer in the breast is not life-threatening. However, when breast cancer travels outside of the breast (usually to the brain, liver, lungs or bones), it becomes metastatic or Stage IV. Approximately 5 percent of newly-diagnosed breast cancer cases are metastatic or Stage IV (interchangeable designations) but even more startling is that approximately 30 percent of early stage breast cancer will become Stage IV. So with more than one-third of all breast cancer patients having to deal with metastatic breast cancer, why don't we hear more about it, and why is it not receiving more attention?
If you ever meet a woman dealing with metastatic breast cancer, you will know what real courage is. These women go through regimens of all sorts of chemotherapy, most often with a combination of chemo drugs. If a certain combo works, it may work for a couple of weeks or months and then stop working altogether. A new combo is then tried, which may not work at all or perhaps may stop the spread of the cancer and perhaps even diminish it for an undetermined amount of time. The side effects of these chemicals can be so devastating to the sufferers both internally and externally. And sadly, most members of this community have to look to fellow sufferers for help and answers of what can be done to lessen the pain and other effects. That leads me to understand that we don't know nearly enough about this cancer when the sufferers have to rely on each other for answers.
Nearly 40,000 women in the U.S. alone will be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer this year. While those of us who were fortunate enough to have our breast cancer treated and removed before hopefully it spread outside of the breast, those women whose breast cancer has spread know that at this moment, there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. The effects of treatment are costly on all fronts. Nearly two-thirds of personal bankruptcy filings in the United States are due to medical debt, according to the nonprofit National Patient Advocate Foundation. Families run up overwhelming medical bills treating a seriously ill loved one, and although I can't determine at this moment exactly how many are due to metastatic breast cancer, knowing the extremely high cost of the drugs and the devastation wreaked upon those who are being treated that can no longer work or take care of their families, we can get a pretty good idea of the financial costs to each person.
This doesn't even begin to address the emotional and psychological treatment that should be afforded to these patients. Living a life plagued with the uncertainty of whether treatment can be found to help, wondering for how long it will work, suffering pain physically, financially and emotionally, etc. demands a recognition of the need of this additional treatment. And what about those who have a doctor who really doesn't care and dismisses a patient with the words like, "We can't do anything else for you; you have three months to live."
We are humans, and taking on this fight for life alone makes these people superhuman, and that is before they even begin treatment. In addition to the treatments are finding the ways to get to and from chemo treatment appointments, regular doctors' appointments and testing locations. How do we expect them to manage all of the day to day expectations like child care, making a living, providing food, clothing, shelter and education for other family members? And what about the emotional and psychological needs of the spouses, partners, children, relatives, other family members and friends who will be providing for the patient and her needs?
We need to do more. We need to allocate more money and resources to research and education. We know that the researchers are out there looking for answers but often do not have the funds necessary to pursue certain theories or do the clinical trials necessary to determine the success of a certain treatment. We have lots of efforts throughout this country raising monies to find the cure and every single donation made and all of the funds raised are needed for so many programs to help those in need. But we need the research to make the long-term difference. We can keep putting Band-Aids on the problems but sooner than later, we need to eliminate the disease entirely. I do believe that we have the talent and the minds and the dedication of those needed to find the answers. Now we need to give them the means to do so.
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