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Don't Ignore Stage Four: Metastatic Breast Cancer

Why some breast cancer advocates are taking the lead in bringing more support and resources to stage four.

Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC), also known as stage four, is when cancer metastasizes or grows to non-adjacent organs within the body. Those living with metastatic breast cancer will live with it for the rest of their lives; it’s a devastating reality, but a reality nonetheless. And with the lack of attention, there is a lot of work needed for substantial change. While nearly 30% of breast cancer cases become metastatic, the number of resources being allocated to its research is wildly disproportionate.

When breast cancer metastasizes, symptoms can be felt in the areas of the body that cancer has spread to. Sudden and intense pain can be felt in the bones, lungs, and liver of MBC patients. Brain metastasis can even include speech and vision impairment as well as memory issues. The unpredictable progression of the disease requires frequent treatment and medication plan adjustments that can be difficult to keep up with, inducing stress and anxiety for patients.

Those living with MBC often feel isolated from their families and friends. Most people don’t know what to say when they hear the news that a life-long friendship could be coming to an end sooner than expected. However, being emotionally supportive and not letting a diagnosis get in the way of your friendship can go a long way in making a positive impact. It is undoubtedly scary and distressing for everyone involved. Maintaining and nurturing relationships helps to improve the quality of life for those with MBC.

Houston native Jody Schoger describes her unique experience as an MBC patient during an interview with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “With metastasis, you’ll have times where you’re responding well and your disease is stable,” she said. “And then there will be a scary time of progression.” Schoger was a passionate cancer advocate before passing away in 2016, age 61.

Breast cancer awareness, in general, gets a lot of mainstream attention. That awareness and support have had an incredibly positive impact. With the promotion of self-exams and early screenings, early detection has resulted in better outcomes as a whole. However, MBC gets only a small amount of focus and funding from general breast cancer awareness resources. Therefore, many of those living with metastatic breast cancer are being overlooked.

MBC awareness efforts include working toward making strides in care & treatment, improving MBC patients’ quality of life, and extending their lives.

In 1993, the pink ribbon was introduced and is now globally recognized as the icon for breast cancer awareness. However, an organization called METAvivor, established in 2009, has introduced two new colors to better represent the unique struggles of those living with metastatic breast cancer.

METAvivor is an organization that focuses exclusively on research for MBC. They have made it their mission to extend and improve the quality of life for MBC patients. You can find more information here.

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