Celebrating Survivors: Metastatic breast cancer doesn’t have to slow you down
For around 12 years, Dianne Hadley had clear mammograms and no signs of breast cancer. She was originally diagnosed with stage 2 lobular breast cancer in 2006 and was treated by having a lumpectomy - a procedure to remove the cancerous tissue from her breast.
Then, in October 2017, she felt a thickening under her arm, and in April of this year, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Hadley says it hasn’t slowed her down.
She is able to take an oral medication as treatment; she takes four pills in the morning, and four at night – one week on, one week off.
“I have not had to change any of my activities because I’m taking this oral medication, I’ve had no side effects, so I’m going on with my life just like I did before I knew I had metastatic stage four breast cancer,” she said.
Lisa Ann Wheeler is a Breast Cancer Advocate with the National Breast Cancer Coalition, focusing on the Metastatic Breast Cancer Access to Care Act.
“Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) is cancer that has spread from the breast to the bones, lungs, liver, or other parts of the body,” Wheeler said. “Ninety percent of breast cancer deaths are as a result of Metastatic Disease and the average life expectancy of an individual with MBC is three years, while many succumbing much earlier than that.
“While there are treatments that have extended the lives of individuals with MBC, there is no cure. Breast cancer cells can break away from an original tumor in the breast and travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and the lymphatic system.”
When Hadley was diagnosed in 2018, cancer was in her breast, under her arm, and in her sternum, she said.
“Any time you have a chronic condition, and in my case, once you’re stage four ... it’s not considered a curable disease once it metastasizes, and I think that brings you closer to friends and family,” Hadley said.
Having breast cancer that was stage four and incurable, she said, was the hardest part to accept, and she felt like she immediately had to get her affairs in order, but she has accepted it, and now lives every day appreciating every moment.
“I think it makes you try to appreciate every moment of every day, and I know we’re supposed to try to do that anyway, but we get so caught up in the activities of our lives and our families and our friends that sometimes we forget, we just go on to the next project and forget how important today is.
“So I think that is one of the messages I have learned, you know, I am making plans for trips for next year, and I hope I’m going to be able to go on them; but if not, I’m just trying to make the best of every minute or every day that I have,” she said.
Wheeler is working with local and federal politicians on the Metastatic Breast Cancer Access to Care Act on getting quicker Medicare and Social Security benefits for those who have been diagnosed and face a need for benefits.
“The focus of patients diagnosed with breast cancer is usually on survivorship. Fighting the good fight. Men and women with MBC will be in treatment for the rest of their lives, this can make for feelings of isolation and misunderstandings regarding their status while undergoing their breast cancer treatment,” Wheeler said.
Hadley’s message is for people to not ignore anything, and not to delay going to the doctor immediately for an issue.
“The earlier diagnosis you can get, the better chance of survival that you have,” she said, “and just not to put off things that you think might not be anything.”
Hadley mentioned that there is better research and treatment options now for breast cancer than in 2006.
“They’ve come a long way in the twelve years since I was treated initially, it’s certainly a lot easier to take eight pills a day than it is to go and sit in an IV room and have chemotherapy drip through your veins for four hours. So they make progress every day in breast cancer research and treatment, and I think I am the beneficiary of that research they’re doing.”