Let’s face it, as much as we all like to wear our pink ribbons with pride while we talk about amazing stories of women, and even men, who have beat breast cancer, there is one breast cancer topic that still makes most people very uncomfortable; metastatic breast cancer – a condition that twists the lives of its sufferers even more surely than it twists the tongue.
A lot has changed in the world of breast cancer in recent years. What was once a barely whispered about topic of shame has become the poster child of cancer movements, with people on every continent working to make sure everybody gets the message of early detection and prevention. And with good reason, breast cancer has one of the highest cure rates of any cancer – round 98 percent if caught early enough. Yet, as hard as we keep on fighting to make sure that no one has to deal with breast cancer in its later stages, the reality is that, for some, the medical science we have available at the moment just isn’t enough to keep the cancer completely at bay.
Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast making it infinitely harder to treat. In simple terms metastasis is the boogieman that almost every cancer awareness campaign tries to warn us about, the stage that for many years was considered the point of no return and at which most people give up hope and resign themselves to their fate. This, however, no longer has to be the case – not anymore.
Over the past four decades the long-term survival rate for metastatic breast cancer has increased drastically. Where once late stage breast cancer patients’ lives were spoken of in terms of months, now it is years, and as treatment methods continue to evolve, those numbers can only go up. So isn’t it time that we afford those who are bravely surviving cancer the same attention as the survivors?
According to a study recently done by the Friends of Cancer Patients (FoCP) charitable society’s breast cancer awareness campaign, Pink Caravan, as many as 40 percent of women with metastatic breast cancer feel isolated and 63% felt like they were not understood.
Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, FoCP Secretary General and Head of the Pink Caravan's Medical and Awareness committee said: ‘The lion’s share of awareness programmes focus on early detection, which means that those with late stage cancer often feel left out. For many people the idea that someone will almost inevitably succumb to a disease leaves them feeling extremely uncomfortable and even powerless.
‘What I want to emphasise is that metastatic breast cancer patients can, and do, live very full and fulfilling lives. We want to show people that this diagnosis isn’t a signal to give up, rather a call to fight even harder, which is why we recently launched our “Breaking the Silence” campaign in collaboration with Novartis, which aims to spotlight the brave fight being fought by metastatic breast cancer patients and give them every bit of the support they need. With an almost 98 percent chance of survival, it is no longer acceptable that women should die of breast cancer in the 21st century – most particularly in light of the advent of the latest developments in the field of cancer research and treatment.
‘Metastatic breast cancer has been added to the chronic diseases list, which means that, with proper treatment, patients with the disease can look forward to leading full and productive lives.
Campaigns like ‘Breaking the Silence’, offer a real opportunity to make a difference in the lives of metastatic breast cancer patients. The simple truth is that none of us have any guarantee as to how long we will remain on this earth; life is precious and fragile in many ways and can come to an end in the blink of an eye. We can however decide how to live our lives – in fear or in triumph. As medicine continues to advance, many conditions that were once insurmountable obstacles have become little more than a bump in the road.
‘The key is to keep fighting even when the odds seem completely stacked against you,’ says Dr Al Madhi. ‘We know how difficult the fight is, and how discouraging it can get. But we also know that it is possible to still really live life, despite breast cancer and no matter what stage you are at – and this is the message we want to make sure that everybody gets.
‘There are so many people who are ready to help, both in our organisation and in the many other cancer awareness organisations that we are very proud to work with. For this reason Pink Caravan is extremely proud, as a UAE-based campaign, to be the first regional entity to talk about metastatic breast cancer. No one needs to face cancer alone and through opening up this dialogue we want to encourage everyone to extend a helping hand to those who are so bravely fighting this disease.’