No expiration date: A Tribute to our angel, Krysti Hughett
Last night, I lay in bed and couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know that my dear friend, Krysti Hughett, drew her last breath just an hour before. Maybe my body and soul could sense it. Krysti passed away on July 7, after more than 10 years of beating the odds of very aggressive stage IV inflammatory breast cancer. She accomplished such an overwhelming task with her determination, incredible intelligence, and tender love and support she gave to others. Yet I can feel her presence as if she was still here. And in a way she is.
It is no coincidence I met Krysti while she was helping others. It was about six years ago, and Krysti was leading a Young Survival Coalition (YSC) support conference call for stage IV breast cancer survivors. I was fairly new at the game and nervous about reaching out for help. It was then that Krysti earned the moniker I gave her – “resource queen.” She told me about a magical place called Camp Kesem and suggested my daughter would like to attend. Her own daughter Molly had been going and loved it. I signed Chrissy up for that summer and she and Molly (AKA camp name Mo Mo) became cabin mates and fast friends. We’d meet up with Krysti and her husband Bill at camp and have dinner afterward. It became our tradition.
Krysti was my mentor and friend. She let me in on so many cancer perks I’d otherwise would have not known about. In addition to Camp Kesem, there was a wonderful mountain retreat weekend through an organization called Image Reborn. You better believe I took advantage of that and passed it along to my breast cancer friends.
Krysti was also my inspiration and fountain of information for clinical trials. Krysti, I found, knew more about them than many of my doctors. It extended her life and many others she so freely advised. I once told her she should get paid for the hours upon hours of consulting she provided for so many people. She shot me down of course. Krysti gave with love; money had nothing to do with it.
Every year we met at Camp Kesem, Krysti would joyously announce that she made it another year to see Molly go to camp. She loved that place, and she loved her girls – Molly, Mindy and Megan. We had a special relationship, but I knew I shared her with so many people who also had a special relationship with this remarkable lady. As she said in her final note, she was loved.
Last Thursday, I went up to Indianapolis with my friend Joules Evans for my scan and blood work for my upcoming clinical trial. Afterwards we stopped in and visited Krysti who was at a nearby hospital. We were among many people who gathered at her bedside. Krysti was struggling to breathe but took off her oxygen mask so she could talk to me. I instinctively stroked her head as she labored to speak. I asked if I was bothering her but she assured me it felt very good. I wanted to give back some of that love and caring she so generously shared with me. We reminisced how we met, and she wanted to know about my clinical trial. Her mind was still sharp as ever and she let me know it sounded promising. I told her I loved her very much and she said she loved me.
There seemed to be little left to be said, but as I turned to head out the door, she had one thing to say to me. “Please let everyone know how you’re doing on your trial.” She wanted me to keep in touch with her family and friends. And I suspect, that she will be listening from above as I give my updates. I know on some deep level that Krysti is watching over me and everyone she has loved. She is just next door, in another dimension, but is still helping everyone. I can feel that right now as I write this.
Krysti’s legacy lives on, and I’m grateful to play a small role in that. Her story is one of the many featured in my book, Miracle Survivors: Beating the Odds of Incurable Cancer. I know Krysti would want you to read it because her story is so encouraging, just like she was in her life.
I’ll leave you with a Krysti quote from my book: “At one point, I was NED (No Evidence of Disease). I call it No Expiration Date. When my husband got me a handicapped sticker – which I needed because I had a brain tumor at the time – it said no expiration. That’s what I focus on whenever I’m in my car. I want to stamp that on my forehead.”
I know one thing for sure, there is no expiration for the memories and
legacy Krysti leaves behind. Your body may have expired; but your spirit will forever be with us.
Tami is an amazing person whose story and phenomenal books are incredibly inspirational. After her five-year, cancer-free anniversary she had a metastatic recurrence of breast cancer in 2008. Tami was shocked when One doctor told her, “You could live two years or 20 years, but you’ll die from breast cancer.” Tami explains, “I wanted talk with other cancer survivors who didn’t accept doctors’ predictions–people who beat the odds. I was determined to find out how they did it so I could do it myself. So I started searching for “miracle survivors” nationwide for my book, From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds.”
Her new book called Miracle Survivors: Beating the Odds of Incurable Cancer, was released in November 2014 .You will find all new stories, but Tami again says “it’s the same message: there is hope no matter what the circumstances.
I feel as if I’m fulfilling God’s purpose for me through this work. It has taught me cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Like the people I’ve interviewed, cancer for me was the beginning of a new way of life; one of appreciation, hope, and discovering one’s potential.”
We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. There’s pink everywhere and all sorts of breast cancer awareness campaigns. In 2009 Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) got one day for awareness. Thanks to the efforts of 9 metastatic patients and countless others, they got congress to designate October 13th as Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. It’s a start. “Breast Cancer Awareness” without “Mets Awareness” is not awareness at all. Now we need everyone to be aware of MBC all year-long. Every day should be Metastatic Breast Cancer Day.
Especially in October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) there have been lots of questioning of the words, the color and what really matters. There’s frustration in the breast cancer community because breast cancer has been painted with survivors and death rates trending in a favorable direction. Sadly when it comes to MBC and death rates we haven’t come very far.
For example in the United States alone in 1991 there were about 112 deaths from breast cancer a day. This year there are about 108 deaths a day in the US. While those 4 lives a day are very important people I don’t think that in over 20 years preventing 4 deaths a day is tremendous progress in this country. There are about 155,000 people living with MBC in the US a year. There are almost 40,000 deaths a year from MBC in the US and around 400 of these deaths are men.
Almost 30% of all breast cancers become metastatic. Some start out with “mets” (about 6-10% of cases) but if you get breast cancer at an earlier stage there’s up to a 30% chance that you will become metastatic. Those who have MBC know this. We still don’t know the cause of many breast cancers and we also don’t know why breast cancer patients become metastatic.
There is no cure for MBC. There are many drugs that can extend lives for years, but treatment is life long switching from drugs that work for a period of time until a drug no longer works. Every case is different and there are different types with some types more difficult to treat than others.
What we do know is that MBC kills very special people. When it comes to breast cancer, people’s stories paint the picture of what happens with this disease. One of them was my fearless friend Li Bailey. In our world of social media very few people knew her. She didn’t have a blog, Facebook page or Twitter account. She had Triple Negative (TNBC) MBC and there were fewer options for her treatment. She knew every detail of her case, and was a very sharp ePatient.
Li and I went through our primary chemo together at the same time. We got together a lot as friends and it was a relief that I wasn’t bald alone. We learned so much about breast cancer together. I had a local recurrence. Today I am NED (no evidence of disease). She had a mets recurrence on her birthday, February 19, 2009. She danced in to the light on January 6, 2012. She went through various treatment options that were wonderful when they worked. Having to change regimens is a harsh reality for anyone with mets. While my friend did not live as long as I would have liked with mets, there are so many cases with different outcomes. I have lots of friends that respond longer to treatments who are living with mets for a very long time.
Li had a wonderful ability of living in the moment with me on a great day. I’m not saying there weren’t some bad ones but we made a pact that on great ones we would be in the moment.
One of the best days was when Li got her dog Shelby as a puppy after we finished our primary chemo. I am so grateful that she chose me to take care of her dog. I loved visiting her and Shelby so many times. Shelby helps me every day keeping memories of Li alive. She is such a wonderful gift. I know Li would be proud of how well Shelby is doing, while she is a constant source of joy in my life.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Li and all my mets sisters living and dying from MBC. I was very lucky that Li let me in to her life with mets and accepted my help. It’s so rewarding to able to help. Li helped me a lot too. She never missed being with me for my many surgeries and I was with her for hers. Having one day for MBC awareness is a start, but we have a long way to go and there should be many more days of awareness for MBC. As patient advocates we have to make metastatic research a priority. We must stop this terrible disease and prevent it from spreading to other organs. This research will hopefully lead to helping end all cancers.
This was an incredible week for breast cancer patients, advocates, doctors, bloggers, and what has happened in breast cancer news and social media. I started on Twitter a year ago and for those of you who don’t know about the format, Twitter is a place where you pick a name for yourself (mine is @a4breastcancer-A4BC was taken) and then there are #hashtags which are names of groups or topics.
Because I find and put together breast cancer news articles as part of Advocates for Breast Cancer (A4BC), I created a new hashtag, #BCANS (Breast Cancer News). I am learning a lot about what ends up as news as well as trying to sort through articles that I hope will be of interest to fellow medical professionals, researchers, advocates, patients, and organizations while I try to decide what is newsworthy. This has been an incredible week of news combined with social media.
I am very proud of being part of the #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media) community which meets on Monday nights from 9-10 Eastern Standard time. It is an incredible group moderated by Dr. Deanna Attai (breast surgeon), Alicia Stales and Jody Schroeger and this week we had a review of what happened in breast cancer at the annual meeting of #ASCO13 ( American Society of Clinical Oncology Meeting 2013, Chicago May 30-June3). I was thrilled because I had followed and gathered #BCANS (breast cancer news) everyday at #ASCO13. I also used and followed the #ASCO13 Twitter feed.
The #BCSM meeting Monday night was so exciting because we had almost as many doctors as patients and patient advocates on the chat including the President of ASCO , Dr. Clifford Hudis (who is also the Chief of Breast Cancer Medicine at MSKCC-(Memorial Sloan Kettering), Dr. Seisenberg (oncologist), Dr. Diane Radford (breast surgeon), Dr. Bob Miller (oncologist), Dr. Matthew Katz, (radiation oncologist), Dr. Krupali (medical oncologist), Dr. Dana (breast oncologist), Dr.Anas Younes (lymphoma expert), Dr.Damodhar (surgeon), and Dr. Naoto Ueno (medical oncologist). (I hope I didn’t miss anyone and I simplified their specialties as otherwise this would be very long!) It was so exciting with all the Doctors and patients interacting, talking about the breast cancer highlights from #ASCO13.
What we discussed is in trials and things we can be hopeful for in the future as well as certain things that may impact our specific cases that we can talk to our own oncologists about. I have mentioned how impressed I am with ASCO because the organization recognizes the importance of patient advocates as well as social media and it relationship to current oncology practices.
What was so great about the #BCSM chat was that patients and doctors could come together and discuss highlights from the #ASCO13 meeting and I love that the doctors are willing to listen to patients, our thoughts, stories as well as ideas and we all learned something together. I am honored that theses doctors care about patients and come together for this type of meeting and I am so impressed with the people I am meeting as a result. To see the transcript follow this link: #BCSM Transcript- Highlights from #ASCO13
I am so excited with what’s happening with social media. I am so proud of my friend and fellow blogger Scorchy Barrington at: The Sarcastic Boob. Scorchy started a petition on change.org opposing Facebook for not allowing photographs from famed photographer David Jay, that showed post-mastectomy photos of women known as The Scar Project, because they violated Facebook’s terms of service. Imagine my delight as I am gathering the news on Wednesday and I see on my news feed an article in the Chicago Tribune that talks about Scorchy’s change.org petition, where she got over 21 thousand signatures of people who felt the pictures belonged on Facebook. I rushed to get the message out on Twitter and as I was also getting it on Facebook there were so many news feeds of articles including CBS News,FOX, The Daily News, The Daily Mail, NBC, ABC , (to name a few). coming out at once that I could hardly keep up with them. Then there was a burst of energy on Twitter and Facebook with so many people cheering for Scorchy and another great friend and blogger AnneMarie at: Chemobrain…In the Fog, started a campaign to get #Scorchy trending on Twitter.
Facebook posted this statement: “We agree that undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience and that sharing photos can help raise awareness about breast cancer and support the men and women facing a diagnosis, undergoing treatment, or living with the scars of cancer. The vast majority of these kinds of photos are compliant with our policies.”
Thanks to brilliant work of Scorchy they will now show these important photos as well as Annmarie Giannino-Otis’s photos at Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer. If you haven’t seen The Scar Project photos, I recommend you look at it here: The Scar Project
Scorchy was quoted saying, “We want the world to know that breast cancer is not a pink ribbon — it is traumatic, it is life-changing, and it urgently needs a cure.”
Scorchy has breast cancer and is Stage IV. She is an amazing blogger, honest, funny, engaging and what she did with this petition and getting all of this news in mainstream media is so fantastic, because patient advocates have worked so hard to let the public know that breast cancer is so much more than a pink ribbon, while all of this “pinkwashing” about the disease distorts some of the harsh realities about breast cancer. These photographs depict real women who know the truth about mastectomies which make scars and are many times lots of surgeries (my case), with different women making difficult choices about whether to do reconstruction and some women especially who get IBC (Inflammatory Breast Cancer) can’t even try reconstruction because IBC happens on the breast skin. As I have said so many times this disease is killing one woman every 14 minutes in the US alone.
There’s a lot of “pinkwashing” of the disease and so many woman who have had breast cancer hate the color pink because of what has been done to the color by representing an oversimplification of a pretty pink disease. As a former ballerina I still love the color pink but I detest “pinkwashing.”
Getting back to this exciting week and all the action on social media, I was still so happy when I got up on Thursday after all the excitement that #Scorchy brought and while I was preparing #BCANS articles, #SCOTUS (The Supreme Court of the United States) ruling came down and 9 judges voted against Myriad genetics.
I have written about the Supreme Court Case in which Myriad Genetics was challenged because they had a patent on our human BRCA genes. This patent allowed them to be the only ones to do this gene test which kept other researchers and companies from conducting research for better tests that would help women with treatment decisions by knowing if they are at high risk of developing this genetic form of breast and ovarian cancer. While Myriad held the monopoly on the test, other companies were prevented from developing better and less expensive tests and more research into other genes.
The case originally in 2009 brought together many diverse plaintiffs in New York Federal Court that included the ACLU, the Association for Molecular Pathology, the American College of Medical Genetics, individual researchers; women’s health and breast cancer advocacy groups, including Breast Cancer Action and Our Bodies Ourselves; and women who have breast and ovarian cancer. Originally they ruled against Myriad but the case was overturned a year later in an appellate court. Absent from the list of plaintiffs was the Susan G. Komen Foundation who lists Myriad Genetics as a donor to their organization.
One of the plaintiffs, Breast Cancer Action (which I am so proud to be on the Speakers Bureau) is a national grassroots education and advocacy organization working to end the breast cancer. They do not accept any donations from companies, corporations or anyone who profits from or contributes to the breast cancer epidemic.
The Supreme Court ruled against Myriad Genetics by ruling that companies cannot patent parts of naturally occurring human genes. The ruling was complex and at the heart of it was the patent, but the result will help doctors, pathology labs, research, breast and ovarian cancer patients and those at high risk for the disease and will also help make the test more affordable. The test was very expensive (over $4000.00) and many women were uninsured, and those who carried insurance while doing the test were sometimes denied payment or had very high co-pays for the test. There is already a genetics testing company based in Houston that said it would offer the test for $995.00 called DNATraits. To see the decision go to: The Association for Molecular Pathology et al. vs. Myriad Genetics .
It was so much fun for all of us to get on Social Media cheering this monumental decision of the Supreme Court. I feel so connected to so many others including breast cancer patients, patient advocates, doctors, legislators, organizations, bloggers, and of course #Scorchy, that are working every day to help other patients, make the public aware about the realities of this disease, get more funding for research especially for patients who are metastatic and doing difficult treatments every day to stay alive, and finally work to develop a vaccine that will prevent this horrible disease in the first place.
It’s been a fantastic week of news and social media. My favorite end to the week will come out soon from my fellow blogger Marie at: Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, where she will do the weekly round-up of some of the best blogs that came out this week. It’s really a great time to be connected to so many awesome people.
Last night , Donna Peach danced in to the light. It is her beautifully poetic expression for those that have died. Yesterday was Donna’s time. Every night I check my email and look for Donna Peach’s blog. She had stage IV metastatic breast cancer and I met her through her blog when I started blogging around ten months ago. Donna was a choreographer and a dancer and because of all my ballet and modern dance training, we became social media #fearless friends immediately. Her incredibly wonderful husband Marvin aka Don also would write on her blog to let us know how she was when she couldn’t.
Last night I was visiting my sister for a holiday and it’s the first night I did not check Donna’s blog. Of course Marvin was there to tell us what happened and to those who are interested in Donna’s blog please click here: at her site: http://donnapeach.com/. Unfortunately she was in the hospital and although she had been in and out of the hospital during these past 10 months, I had hoped she would get better and be able to go home with her incredible husband.
This is the part of breast cancer that I hate. When someone is diagnosed with Stage IV, their disease is not curable but there are various regimens of chemotherapy that can extend life. This is so unfair. The trick is trying to keep quality of life while extending it with regimens that have terrible side effects but are able to extend one’s lifetime.
My focus today is about the beautiful living Donna who participated in so many events with breast cancer social media including her web site and a site where others with cancer can express themselves through poetry and words. To see this great site go to: http://cancerpoet.com/. She always joined our meetings on Twitter with #BCSM (the breast cancer social media community) and I was always so happy to see that she was part of this incredible group.
I was supposed to meet her when the Los Angeles group of the #BCSM community met on a Saturday in West Hollywood, but unfortunately my dog Shelby had a terrible urinary tract infection and her urine was bloody. Leave it to Donna when I wrote her a long email explaining how sorry I was I missed the meeting, she just said not to worry I would see her the next meeting. Although deep down I knew time was getting limited, we all have to live in the moment and make the best of it.
I am frustrated that we have not found a way to help those with metastatic cancer. I have watched too many dance in to the light this way. But for today I just want to remember Donna and the beautiful soul that she was.
I know that sometimes this blog is hard for some. Who wants to hear about death and breast cancer? Yet this is a harsh reality of the disease. When I was first diagnosed I didn’t want to hear about anyone dying from the disease. All we want to hear is that we can be cured and we do what the doctors tell us and that’s the end of it.
Unfortunately when someone is diagnosed with metastatic cancer whether breast, esophageal, lung, pancreatic, colon, etc., many people don’t understand that no matter how much someone tries to grin and bear treatment there is no hope of a cure. There is only a chance of extending life through various chemo regimens depending upon one’s pathology.
I am not trying to be grim. I just want everyone to understand how special Donna was as well as so many I have watched with metastatic cancer that tried as hard as they could to stay with us as long as they could. I hope that through my advocacy this will change. I hope we can find a vaccine to end breast cancer while we learn how to reverse metastatic cancer. Only then will I believe that all of my time and energy was worth it – for truly this is a goal worth achieving.
Meanwhile, dear sweet Donna I hope your beautiful soul is at peace and you can feel all the love that so many of us are sending you.
I am sitting on a plane with wifi and reading other breast cancer blogs which I did during a wonderful holiday with my family. They have me thinking a lot. My need to write today has to do with the fact that as I take this flight home I am flooded with memories and feelings of my past flights going back to California when I was living closer to my family on the southeast coast. I flew many times on this flight to California running to my friends especially my very close friend Li who went through chemo with me and had stage IV MBC , while on the east coast my brother was going through stage IV esophageal cancer. His health climbed faster downhill then my friend because of the stage at which he discovered his cancer.
I have been so happy working away at being a patient advocate and doing everything I can to make a difference and I am reading different things and all I can say is this may sound crazy but for me it was so much easier being the patient in jeopardy going through my primary chemo at an earlier stage than having to watch my brother and best friend go down their line of chemo drugs and disease progression. I ask myself over and over why it wasn’t me and why it was them as I stood by and they let me in fearlessly clinging to the joy they could find in life and wanting to have as much quality of time in life with them.
After I had breast cancer twice in California I decided to move closer to be with my family, because I just was drained from all the constant treatment and I missed my family. Little did I know seven months later my father would find out that he had pancreatic cancer and luckily I had moved close to the family and was able to be with him, since he died 10 days from finding out his diagnosis. I think in some ways he was better off not knowing that he was so sick until the end.
Being with my brother and my best friend as they went down their line of drugs was just as special, yet at the same time I have so much guilt that it wasn’t me. I luckily rented a room in California so I could fly back and forth and keep my medical Doctors in California.
After my brother died I moved back to California as everything shifted and luckily I had been at the right place …at the right time…while my friend got close to the end. I am on another flight knowing this cycle will not stop. A very close friend has Stage III – IV lung cancer and is such an inspiration. I have a few more friends who are going through Stage IV breast cancer. I have stepped in cancerland and there is no turning back. I am not Stage IV and for that I should be grateful and (don’t get me wrong) I am but it’s hitting me as I return to my home. I am saddened by the sheer loss of things around me.
At the same time, I refuse to keep complaining and continue forward with all of my advocacy work to make a difference…It’s just that I am in a moment where I feel like that rat on the ferris wheel as more people get bad news. Yet my father, my brother and my best friend all gracefully lived in the moment as much as they could to hold on to joyous days of life while they knew they were going to be taken away from their disease. I asked my brother if he was scared and he said he wasn’t….Life…death…he just accepted to his fate and made the most of what he had. I asked my best friend and she said she wasn’t scared either. To her she was looking forward to seeing people when she died.
With these things happening around me I can’t help asking myself why them? At the same time I refuse to push myself in to the dreaded corner of anger and resentment at fate and get a grip knowing I must be smart enough to make the most of whatever time I have. In the back of my mind one of the bloggers was angry because they are stage IV and they were sick of hearing they should live in the moment. I think the reason she was angry is the word “SHOULD”. Instead we all COULD try to live in the moment. If we don’t and we can’t make the most of out time while we are here, then why bother fighting to live. This is it. Take it or leave it. I have to try to make the most of my moments no matter how little control I have over what Stage of disease or peril I or my closest friends are in. At the same time, I am not trying to pat myself on the back as much as be grateful I have the ability to make a difference and while I believe I have NED (no evidence of disease) make the best of it. My father made the best of his life and had no idea how sick he was. I think he was better off not knowing until the end.
It’s not the analogy of “I could get hit by a bus” at any time before my friends who are in Stage IV cancerland know the bus is coming as much as why waste time getting so upset that I bring a harsher depression on myself as I have enough of that from all the hormones that have been stripped from me to theoretically keep me NED. The truth of the matter is I can wallow in anger and resentment or forge ahead with optimism and lack of fear for what is happening inside my body and live my best life. That is truly the only way I can make sense of all that is surrounding me.
Honestly I am proud of how I talked myself out of wallowing in self pity as I return to California after a wonderful holiday with my family. I am also thrilled that I have this wonderful machine and social media to help make the most of this flight as I plan to return to all the enormous tasks I have facing me and get back to my routine while I know there is so much work ahead of me to make a difference in Breast Cancer Land. And whether you are healthy, having health issues, in cancerland, affected by cancerland or just reading this because you care about me and what I have to say…thank you for letting me use this platform to express what is happening around me.
Meanwhile it’s a new year. Make the most of it, love yourself and try to enjoy everything around you no matter where your body or mind is at. This also includes what your loved ones are going through. That is the only way all of us can live our best lives and appreciate so much of what we have.
Below is information taken from the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) web site explaining what the symposium is all about. Although I was unable to attend this year, I have attended in 2009 and 2010 and it is a very exciting fast paced meeting with incredible presentations of abstracts and clinical trials that are all about breast cancer.
I have followed the conference and put articles in my daily breast cancer newspaper at http://www.scoop.it/t/breast-cancer-news. I have picked a great source called Onc Live that has a great review of the presentations in articles that if you missed the conference or just wanted to know about it, here is an excellent place to read articles of presentations in San Antonio.
I had hoped this year would bring more research for Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) and as a patient advocate I am discouraged because there wasn’t much news on MBC, except progress with those that are HER-2 positive. As a patient advocate I think that all of us need to use our voices to get funding for more research when it comes to MBC.
For thirty-five years, the symposium’s mission has been to provide state-of-the-art information on breast cancer research. From a one-day regional conference, the symposium has grown to a five-day program attended by a broad international audience of academic and private researchers and physicians from over 100 countries.
The symposium aims to achieve a balance of clinical, translational, and basic research, providing a forum for interaction, communication, and education for a broad spectrum of researchers, health professionals, and those with a special interest in breast cancer.
In 2007, the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at UT Health Science Center San Antonio and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) announced a collaboration for the future of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The symposium has been renamed the CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Complementing the clinical strengths of the highly regarded annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, the AACR’s scientific prestige in basic, translational and clinical cancer research will create a unique and comprehensive scientific meeting that will advance breast cancer research for the benefit of patients.
In 2005, Baylor College of Medicine became a joint sponsor of the symposium and will remain in the CTRC-AACR collaboration.
C. Kent Osborne, MD, Professor of Medicine and Molecular and Cellular Biology, Director, Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center, Director, Breast Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Peter M. Ravdin, MD, PhD, Ruth McLean Bowman Bowers Chair for Breast Cancer Research & Treatment, Director of the Breast Cancer Program, UT Health Science Center San Antonio and Carlos L. Arteaga, MD, Director, Breast Cancer Program Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University are Co-Directors of the symposium.
Patients with triple-negative breast cancer who have residual disease after receiving neoadjuvant chemotherapy have a series of genetic alterations that are clinically targetable and may warrant further study.
Extending the duration of adjuvant tamoxifen treatment to 10 years was more effective than the standard 5 years of treatment in protecting against recurrence and death among women with ER+ breast cancer.
Copyright OncLive 2006-2012
Intellisphere, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
For those of you that don’t use Twitter the # is a hashtag to refer to a group. The #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media) Community meets every Monday night at 9PM Est or 6PM PST to discuss different topics about breast cancer. I was always afraid of social media, but knowing that I am starting my non-profit organization called Advocates 4 Breast Cancer, I realized that I needed to get involved with social media. When I went to Washington DC for the National Breast Cancer Coalition Advocacy Meetings and Lobby Day in May of this year, I met other bloggers and took a class explaining how to use social media. The Twitter thing had me very confused but thanks to Lori who sat next to me and who blogs at “regrounding of chemo, cancer and red, red wine,” I signed up for Twitter and she told me about the #BCSM community, It took me some time to realize they had these meetings on Monday nights and I am so grateful to Lori for telling me about them. She also invited me to meet some of the group and I met one of the moderators Dr. Attai as well as Carmen and Liza for lunch in LA a few months ago. To the right is the picture of us after our lunch meeting in LA.
We had a wonderful write-up in USA Today. It is so good that I am going to print it here. There is also a video that is worth watching included in the story. I am so proud to be part of this group.
To read and see the video of the full story click here: VIDEO & STORY
This is the final installment in USA TODAY‘s four-week series on breast cancer. The series looks at screening, treatment and support via social media.
7:40AM EDT October 23. 2012 – Twitter, perhaps best known lately as a source of Big Bird jokes, might not seem like the first place to look for a breast cancer support group, a boot camp in medical research or the seeds of a social movement.
Yet a weekly Twitter chat on breast cancer, launched just over year ago, has blossomed into all those things and more, participants say.
The online chat, known as BCSM — or breast cancer social media — has a growing following of men and women looking to share war stories, empower patients and change the national conversation on breast cancer.
Folks who join the chats “are amazing. And they tell each other so,” says co-founder and breast cancer survivor Jody Schoger, 58, of The Woodlands, Texas. “They find the best in each other and celebrate that quality.”
Robert Miller, a medical oncologist at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center In Baltimore, is a frequent guest expert on BCSM. Miller says he understands how those unfamiliar with Twitter might be “skeptical that exchanging 140-character messages with a group of strangers for an hour every Monday night would be an effective tool. But it really is.”
Psychologist Ann Becker-Schutte, a frequent guest expert on BCSM, says the support group take its positive tone from its leaders.
Schoger and her fellow organizers — who became friends online months before ever meeting face to face — each bring unique talents, says Becker-Schutte, who specializes in helping people with serious diseases.
Schoger is a writer with a background in public relations. Co-founder Alicia Staley, 41, is a three-time cancer survivor from Boston, as well as an information technology analyst and online community manager. The third member of the team, California breast surgeon Deanna Attai, joined BCSM during its second chat and quickly became a co-moderator.
A well of support
Each moderator works hard to keep conversations on track and avoid the pitfalls of traditional support groups, Becker-Schutte says. While other support groups may allow people to vent their frustration, she says, BCSM provides a way for people to transform those frustrations into action.
In most support groups, “one or two patients sort of take over, and it turns into a bitch session,” Attai says. “That’s not what you see with #BCSM. … We have a common goal — that’s to educate, empower and support, and all that participate seem to embrace that.”
Schoger says she’s been pleased to see how BCSM helps women — and the occasional man — think through complex issues and become leaders.
“So many of these women are writing stronger blog pieces and are taking up the mantle in different breast cancer organizations,” Schoger says. “I just love watching it.”
Staley says the group’s success has surprised her. There’s no formal promotion. Instead, early participants often stumbled across the chats after searching for keywords — known on Twitter as hashtags — such as cancer.
“This is something incredible that has grown out of a hashtag,” Staley says.
The virtual community has spent more than 600 hours in conversation since their first chat. Schoger alone devotes about 15 hours a week to BCSM, and another 10 more to her blog, Women With Cancer.
The key to forming a close-knit community, Schoger says, is listening. She notes that many organizations and companies use social media such as Twitter as a one-way broadcasting system to put out a message of the day. The most successful people in social media foster real conversations, she says.
Becker-Schutte notes that the women’s fellowship doesn’t end with their hour-long chats. BCSM leaders monitor the group’s ongoing conversations. “If someone is having a hard time, it isn’t long before someone responds.” Becker-Schutte says.
Conversations such as BCSM fill a huge void, Attai says. She began chatting with breast cancer patients after noticing a 1 a.m. conversation between two women about Paget’s disease of the breast, a rare form of cancer that Attai has treated.
“Patients just aren’t getting the information they need,” Attai says. “Two women shouldn’t have to go online in the middle of the night.”
And although individual tweets are brief, the group delves into deep subjects. BCSM has tackled issues such as parenting and maintaining a career through breast cancer treatment; emotions such as anger, anxiety about recurrence and survivor’s guilt; and post-treatment complications such as “chemo brain” and lymphedema, which causes arm swelling.
Staley, who developed breast cancer twice after receiving radiation for Hodgkin lymphoma, says many patients feel alone. She divides her cancer experience into three phases: diagnosis, treatment and “after.”
“The diagnosis comes at you fast and furious,” says Staley, who blogs at awesomecancersurvivor.com. “You make your decision for treatment. You get to the end of the treatment plan, and you get a pat on the back and off you go into the world. I’ve been through this three times, and the ‘after’ part is the hardest. You are pushed back into the real world and you have to redevelop your framework for connecting. That’s what this community has done, to prop me up post-treatment, to get me back into the real world.”
The Internet is teeming with online support groups, of course, including dozens just for breast cancer, Schoger says. Hundreds of cancer survivors across the USA now blog about their experiences.
Online communities can be especially powerful for those with rare diseases, who often may not be able to find other people with their condition in their communities, says Terry Lynn Arnold, of Friendswood, Texas.
Arnold, who has a rare type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer, says she has formed close bonds on Facebook with women she would likely never have met in person.
Doing their homework
BCSM stands out from most other support groups, however, because of its rigorous focus on medical evidence, Attai says.
Given that myths and misinformation can spread like wildfire online, Attai says it’s crucial for BCSM to provide accurate information that’s supported by strong science. The group regularly dissects the latest research and routinely recruits experts. Some of the more science-heavy topics have included clinical trials, hereditary breast cancers and how to avoid “voodoo medicine.”
In addition to Miller and Becker-Schutte, guest experts have included Matthew Katz, director of radiation oncology at Lowell General Hospital in Massachusetts; Julie Gralow, director of breast medical oncology at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance; and St. Louis breast surgeon Diane Radford.
Although the group has plenty of compassion for people with cancer, members have little patience for hecklers, self-promoters or spammers, Staley says.
“There are plenty of angry communities on Twitter, but we’re not one of them,” Attai says. “If someone wants to pick a fight, they will quickly learn that’s not what we are about. If someone wants to come and promote broccoli extract (as a cure for cancer), we will call them out on that, and they will go elsewhere.”
Connecting across platforms
Attai and other doctors say the chats have given them a better sense of what patients are going through, and “how much my patients were holding back from me.”
And while the community may be virtual, the emotions expressed are palpable, especially when participants are in crisis, or grieving the loss of a loved one, Schoger says.
Last February, BCSM lost two of its members in one day. Organizers scrapped their planned chat and devoted the entire hour to remembering the two women. “We had what can only be called a virtual wake,” Schoger says.
And while BCSM isn’t political, the community has developed a strong voice on key issues in breast cancer. The group regularly criticizes “pinkwashing,” or the commercialization of breast cancer, which is invoked throughout October to sell products. Breast cancer bloggers are taking up the issue, as well, so much that “pink-ribbon fatigue” is becoming a common phrase.
Members of BCSM are also “fearless friends” to women with metastatic disease, which has spread to other organs and is incurable. Such women often feel unwelcome and abandoned by other breast cancer groups, Attai says.
“It seems like the community as a whole have turned their backs on men and women with metastatic breast cancer,” Attai says. “If you don’t fit into this narrow window with pink, ‘happy’ cancer, then the community has no place for you.”
Partly due to efforts like BCSM’s, women with metastatic disease say their concerns are far more visible this year than just a year ago.
BCSM’s founders say they would love to help other patients start or expand similar communities. Patients with very aggressive kinds of cancer, such as ovarian or brain tumors, often aren’t healthy enough to form the sorts of advocacy groups that exist in breast cancer, Staley says. Often, these patients go immediately into aggressive treatments, which can make it difficult for them to organize support groups.
There are more than 2 million breast cancer survivors alive today, however, and many of them are relatively young and tech-savvy, she says.
Creating more communities like BCSM, however, would require finding moderators who are equally compassionate, dedicated and informed, Becker-Schutte says.
“They’re pretty amazing,” Becker-Schutte says. “They are doing for the community what they wish had been available for them in their initial diagnosis and treatment.”
Coming up on Twitter
Join the discussion about breast cancer screenings #abcDrBchat at 1 p.m. Oct. 30.