ESCAPE 2016

escape_4_cancer_advocates_-_about_us_-_2016-09-06_09-25-30It was so thrilling to attend #ESCAPE2016. How wonderful the BAG IT organization is committed to combining patient advocacy with self discovery. meditation, group exercises, meetings about effective lobbying, running non-profits and even a special Indian dance. bag_it_-_2016-09-06_09-20-08

I went to Escape seeking solutions to balance my personal and professional passions. I discovered I hide my ongoing complications from this disease, because so many of my close friends with stage IV are being ignored and facing much more difficult circumstances. I want to save everyone from the scars of cancer. I have lost so many family members and loved ones to this disease.

IMG_4954The desert was beautiful, but a little warm this time of year. With a no cell phone policy at Miravel Resort, it was nice to not feel so absorbed by the 100’s of tweets, FB posts, texts, and emails, as I tried to balance the great conferences with classes and even group meditations in pods!

I loved that it was a small mix of all kinds of cancer advocates. There was healthy food, meditation, and networking. We had an amazing talk from Shelley at the NCCS where she talked about how we influence policy. IMG_4897

I hope to go again next year. I was fortunate to meet some great people and partake in combining advocacy with self discovery. Patient advocates (especially volunteers) need this type of balance. The burn out factor is real especially when passions are high, time is of the essence to save lives and yet all of us must remember to stop, take a breath, and try to be in the moment especially when the body and mind are filled with stress.

It’s also important to put our personal health first. No matter what stage or complications one has from any cancer, loved ones helping, medical professionals, patient advocates, researchers, and doctors, we are all in this together. We must respect each other and try to move forward. My own personal side effects have slowed me down sometimes, but it’s time we allow ourselves to feel.

IMG_4950I also realized that I have been dealing with a lot of grief. Thankfully I was surrounded by awesome people. Version 2During many of the special meditative and group activities, I found myself quite emotional. I do believe that when it comes to cancer there’s so much emotional pain, physical changes, highs and lows, and some very tough times because of the incredible toll this disease can take. Thank you to the sponsors who help bring Escape2016 to patient advocates.

I came home so much more refreshed and ready for the tasks ahead that keep this new balance. It’s important to take time for reflection and always be mindful of making sure we keep taking care of our selves, while content to push forward helping others.

A4BC at SABCS 2015

We are pleased to announce the success of our newly implemented scholarship program. We awarded two amazing women, Jennie Grimes and Grazia De Michele paid scholarships thanks to our generous donors at Advocates for Breast Cancer (A4BC).

Jennie Grimes Susan Zager grazia
Jennie Grimes, Susan Zager and Grazia De Michelle

Grazia De Michelle – an Italian born woman currently living in the UK.was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, at the age of 30, and has been a patient advocate ever since. She was treated in Italy where, unlike the United States, breast cancer advocacy is still in its infancy and the level of patients’ engagement with researchers and healthcare providers is low. As a result, at the end of active treatment, in 2012,  Grazia started  her blog, Le Amazzoni Furiose (The Furious Amazons), to promote Italian women’s involvement in the international debate on breast cancer. A year later, she joined the Breast Cancer Consortium, a network of scholars and advocates interested in breast cancer, critical health-literacy and evidence-base medicine founded by medical sociologist Gayle Sulik.

Jennie Grimes – a metastatic breast cancer (MBC) patient is literally dying for a cure. She is 35 years old, going through a rough time because there are limited choices of drugs to keep her alive. She asked the professionals at #SABCS15, “please keep me alive.” My heart is breaking because I wish there was more available for her and so many others dying of stage IV breast cancer.
Metup_Dying_for_a_CureMetup_Dying_for_a_Cure_-_2015-12-24_12.51.05Phyllis_(@Groz_P)_Twitter_-_2015-12-27_13.15.18The most exciting part of the symposium was (A4BC) joining with other organizations that are working toward the same mission.  We met with Beth Caldwell, mother, wife, cancer patient, METUP co-founder, and blogger. Meeting people that we know through social media and being able to interact with them is so meaningful because we are able to join forces to save lives. We also met Corrie Painter PHD who along with NiKhil Wagle, MD is working on the MBCProject.org. They believe in sharing the data. This is a whole new way of approaching research.

The_Metastatic_Breast_Cancer_Project_-_2015-12-24_12.58.27
 Learn More at: http://www.MBCProject.org

The truth is that when it comes to breast cancer, we are in an epidemic. Over 40,000 women and 400 men die each year in the U.S. alone from Metastatic Breast Cancer. This is the same number of deaths in the U.S. that occurred during the height of the AIDS epidemic. So while many breast cancer organizations use pink marketing to raise money for a cure, the reality is they just keep saturating the public with the idea that breast cancer is a pretty pink disease with survivors.

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People mean well. But they don’t understand that living with MBC has nothing to do with whether the person “fights hard enough.”

Many people did not understand why we are demanding that Stage IV needs more focus; too many women (and some men) are dying. What we’ve done in 25 years has not had much impact on the death rates. We must prioritize our efforts to save lives.IMG_1713

If we could finally understand why someone gets breast cancer, like we understand how AIDS is spread, it would be a huge help towards finding life saving treatments and prevention.

Donate Graphic 6-25-15

If you want to be part of the work we are doing at Advocates for Breast Cancer, please consider giving a tax free donation. We have a new donation page on our site. We are so grateful to our donors and supporters. Wishing you peace, health, love and happy holidays! 💝💖💝💖

 

Special Post by Tami Boehmer

This is a very special post by Tami Boehmer. I am reblogging it here, but I will also add the original link:

http://www.tamiboehmer.com/2015/07/no-expiration-date-a-tribute-to-our-angel-krysti-hughett/

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No expiration date:  A Tribute to our angel, Krysti Hughett

Krysti's

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.

Image 5Krysti 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.

Image 1Krysti’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.

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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.”
Image 4Tami 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.”

Image 6Her 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.”

Please learn more about Tami and visit her blog at: http://www.tamiboehmer.com

Things are Looking Up

I truly feel empowered by the amount of love and understanding that I am receiving from my family and good friends as a result of blogging my true thoughts and emotions. I am so uplifted by all the love and support coming my way.

love26gratitudelogo2.jpg?format=500wAfter facing my fears and shedding many tears, there is plenty to be grateful for and inspired about. My fearless friend is strong as an ox. She makes me laugh and my time with her is wonderful. Although she had a very rough week, the treatment is working. She is optimistic and so am I. The-Correlation-Between-Fitness-and-Happiness

While still depressed, I am confident I am on the road to recovering from it. With the incredible help of my family and friends, plus tons of resources, all will be well.

IMG_5839Some days everything looks bleak. But life is full of surprises. I am not alone. It’s time to throw away the pity party and look towards the future. I refuse to let everything drag me down when I have so much love and support that I can count on.

And don’t worry. There is still plenty to write and complain about. But today I am going to live in the moment. I will continue to remind myself to approach each day with ease and joy. Sometimes it’s easier said then done but I will keep on trying.

Dr. Susan Love’s Research Foundation Teams Up

I received this in an email yesterday from Dr. Susan Love’s Research Foundation. Leave it to Dr. Susan Love to bring together Susan G. Komen, the Young Survival Coalition, and the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation to collaborate on the collateral damage and side effects of Breast Cancer as part of the Health of Women (HOW) study. This is so exciting to have breast cancer organizations working together. Dr. Susan Love not only wrote about this concept but she is taking action.

There’s still time to participate with questions in this study so please read the release that Dr. Susan Love sent and get all of this great information including how you can join the conversation with Dr. Susan Love on Facebook, Wed October 2 at 9am Pacific Time and/or Twitter at 1:00 Pacific time.

Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation Teams with Susan G. Komen and Young Survival Coalition to Document the Collateral Damage of Breast Cancer

Image 2We’re pleased to announce the groundbreaking collaboration of three breast cancer powerhouses to document the short- and long-term physical and emotional side effects of breast cancer treatments as part of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation’s Health of Women [HOW] Study.

Those of you who have been following Dr. Love’s recent blog posts are aware of  the outpouring of interest in documenting the collateral damage of today’s breast cancer treatments and many of you have already participated by providing key questions about your own experiences.

More data needs to be collected to provide the scientific community with the most robust cohort from which to derive and analyze the true cost of the cure. In the spirit of collaboration, the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation reached out to Susan G. Komen and Young Survival Coalition as well as other advocacy groups to ask for their help in spreading the word.

YoungSurvivalCoalitionLogoSusan G. Komen and Young Survival Coalition have agreed and are inviting their constituents to share their experiences with collateral damage from treatment and to participate in the HOW Study as a means of identifying the causes of, and prevention strategies for breast cancer. This groundbreaking collaboration also demonstrates that different breast cancer organizations can work together on important issues.  We welcome all breast cancer and cancer groups to join us.

HOW_Logo_onlyQuestions about collateral damage from breast cancer can be submitted through October to http://www.questionthecure.org. Anyone interested in being part of this initiative can register for the Health of Women [HOW] Study and complete the basic questionnaires on personal health and/or breast cancer diagnoses. When the collateral damage module is complete and online, participants will be notified by email.

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To give you an opportunity to learn more about this groundbreaking collaboration, Dr. Susan Love will host a Facebook chat (Wednesday, October 2 at 9:00 a.m. PDT) and a Twitter chat (Wednesday, October 2 at 1:00 p.m. PDT).

The Angelina factor

Here is a great post from my friend Tami who has MBC (Metastatic Breast Cancer). What I love most about Tami is while she knows the realities of this disease, she continues to inspire as she shares stories about hope on her blog as well as her award-winning book, From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds.

I was also sorry to hear about Angelina’s Aunt who died from MBC. Because there are 113 deaths a day from MBC in the US alone, you can also read an incredible Tribute to Maria Wetzel who also died from MBC the same day as Angelina Jolie’s aunt.

We must do everything to continue research that will help those with metastasis stay alive, while we work on ending this terrible disease.

The Pink Fund

Now that some time has passed, I think I can discuss this in a rational manner. There have been varied reactions to Angelina Jolie’s descision to have a double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA gene mutation, a hereditary factor affecting a five percent of breast cancer and 10-15 percent of ovarian cancer cases. The cover of People magazine calls it a brave and heroic act. Others call it self-serving and drastic. I just read an article in the Boston Globe, which criticized her for having the wealth and beauty to afford such an endeavor.

My reaction? Sheer anger and frustration. I bristled at all the attention and admiration bestowed upon Angelina, when in contrast I feel the real heroes are the women facing metastatic (stage IV) cancer who  garner little publicity, and worse, funding. I felt furious that so many wonderful women and men, many of them young…

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Notes from Dr. Susan Love Speaking at the Summit

I really enjoyed hearing Dr. Susan Love speak at the Inaugural Advocate Leadership Summit. For starters it was such a thrill and so exciting to see her after knowing that she went through intense treatment including chemotherapy and surgery for leukemia. I always feel so uplifted when she talks about breast cancer and opens our minds to see things with a fresh perspective. She raised some great points. I took my notes and I hope I am reflecting what she spoke about in the best way possible to help others read what she had to say.

susan-love-cancer-20130213-001She spoke about breast cancer today, and the damage of treatment and over diagnosis. She said with our goal of finding every tumor even those that are just DCIS and have not progressed to cancer, is like the TSA screening. We are in a climate of over treatment where we tend to slash, burn and poison. Then when we have recurrences we have done so much treatment that it could reduce the treatment’s effectiveness. She acknowledges that doctors roles are to find things. Yet 29% of cancers would not kill. Only 20 -30% will become invasive. We over treat and over test. We are in a climate of more is better. We use MRI, PET CT, and Markers. All of this equals finding reasons for treatment. So we do surgery, radiation, chemo, and hormone targeted therapy.

Yet we never think of not doing a treatment or subtracting from a treatment plan. We just throw everything we can at whatever we find. She talked about how the oncotype dx and/or the mammaprint test at least looks at whether all of this treatment is necessary. She says none of this is malicious on the doctor’s part. It’s just that no one is looking at the big picture.

For example, when patients are diagnosed, they are scared. So they listen to their doctors and do what they are told. But with all of this treatment thrown on all the over diagnostic testing and never subtracting from the treatment especially at an early stage comes in a climate of intense fear. No one is ever told about the terrible toll side effects will play on the patient from all of this slash and burn treatment. There is a huge amount of collateral damage.

Oncotype_boxMammaPrint_posevnoHaving come from doing chemotherapy herself she understands how much this type of treatment takes its toll. Side effects are always down played. No one talks about the effect of AI’s or lymphedema. At least the oncotype dx test and mammaprint test looks at whether treatments might work. It would help us to know before treatment, what all these side effects were, whether all of this treatment is necessary and if every case warranted and needed all of this treatment. Also is all this treatment going to be effective or will it just overtax the body and mind? Is anyone looking at the big picture? Can we try to predict if someone will get lymphedema before we rush to do surgery?

With radiation there is skin damage. Treatment causes muscles to atrophy. Do we make all women wear a protective sleeve on an airplane? Do we let patients know that when we take breast tissue away that there will be no sensation left in the breast? Do we tell ahead of all the pain from surgery?

There is pain from surgery. There is collateral damage from all treatment. There’s numbness, muscle atrophy, skin changes, and heart disease. With all of this systematic therapy all things have side effects. The fatigue and chemobrain lasts for years. There’s heart disease from chemotherapy. Anthracyclines can cause leukemia. These things have lasting side effects. Fertility problems, joint problems, fractures and second cancers…all of these things are real. Treatment is not a free lunch.

chemodrip.jpg.pagespeed.ic.1vc9PB_Kv3When someone is triple negative at the beginning they can do well, but statistics show that triple negative breast cancer tends to recur early on. Other cancers tend to recur later while the patients are far away from all of this intense treatment. This is where prevention makes the most sense. If we can prevent the problem in the first place and knew what the real bugs in the breast were at the beginning wouldn’t we be better off? If we understood the environment before the problems took place and we had a vaccine to prevent these problems and we really understood how to keep a normal breast before we rush to all this treatment, wouldn’t that be a better approach? If we really looked at immunology, anatomy, physiology and found new clues and new ways to study DCIS before we rushed to throw everything in the kitchen sink on it, would we need surgery for DCIS? Could 3D ultrasound help with DCIS?

Ductal carcinoma in sity (DCIS)
Ductal carcinoma in sity (DCIS) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead of continuing to follow the things as they are, we at least owe it to ourselves to be asking these questions. Instead of rushing to treatment with DCIS would it be better to see carefully what was happening before we put a patient through these treatments that have collateral damage and side effects? Tamoxifen has a lot of side effects as well as AI’s.

At least by asking these questions and trying to prevent the problem with a vaccine we would be looking at everything we are doing and starting to come up with new ways of approaching the problem instead of just following the status quo of what we are doing. We need to do this so that we can avoid all of this collateral damage and also have these treatments available in case things progressed before someone has been so over treated that when they present with advanced disease all of this has been used and is no longer effective.

28627_119149311460178_7118937_aI also asked her whether by working on a vaccine to prevent breast cancer could we also apply using this for metastatic disease by injecting someone with a vaccine and being able to turn their disease around?  She very carefully admitted that this was not her expertise and that she had just finished treatments, but she did feel that there was nothing to prevent us from trying to make a vaccine that also tackled metastatic breast cancer. Whether or not this is feasible I do not know, but what I did appreciate was hearing her perspective after going through as much as she has been through, and I am so glad that she is part of the team of trying to find answers and look at new ways that we approach this terrible disease.

It’s so great to have her back with all of us, after her treatments. She is truly someone who I admire and knows so much about breast cancer and it’s amazing to see her post treatment with so much enthusiasm for getting back to work on all of these important issues revolved around breast cancer.

Dr. Susan Love, MD, MBA, FACS is a Clinical Professor of Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and the President of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. She leads the Love/Avon Army of Women, an initiative partnering of women (and men) who are willing to participate in breast cancer research with scientists who are conducting research on the prevention of breast cancer. She is the author of “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book,” which is in it’s 5th edition. Dr. Love is a founding member of NBCC and her foundation is represented on the Board of Directors of NBCC. She received her medical degree from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York and did her surgical training at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital.

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After realizing that some people are not aware of the Oncotype DX test or the Mammaprint test, I went to their websites and here is the current information about the tests. Of course, always discuss this with your oncologist as this is only here to help those that don’t know the latest information about these tests that is available online.

According to the Oncotype DX website:

The Oncotype DX® test is a diagnostic test that helps identify which women with early-stage, estrogen-receptor positive and lymph-node-negative breast cancer are more likely to benefit from adding chemotherapy to their hormonal treatment. This test also helps assess the likelihood that an individual woman’s breast cancer will return. The Oncotype DX test provides important information that you and your doctor may use when making decisions about treatment. Post-menopausal women recently diagnosed with node-positive, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer may also be appropriate candidates for the Oncotype DX test.

According to the MammaPrint website:

To be eligible for the MammaPrint gene expression profile, a breast cancer patient should fulfill the following criteria:

  • Breast Cancer Stage 1 or Stage 2
  • Invasive carcinoma (infiltrating carcinoma)
  • Tumor size <5.0 cm
  • Lymph node negative
  • Estrogen receptor positive (ER+) or Estrogen receptor negative (ER-)
  • Women of all ages

Hope from the NBCC Deadline 2020 Advocate Summit and Lobby Day

As I returned home from the NBCC (National Breast Cancer Coalition) Advocates Summit and Lobby Day to end Breast Cancer Deadline 2020, I was really happy I went. I have to admit I had so many reservations going. I labored over my decision. I thought I was going to fly home with “Frustration – Part Two.” There’s been a lot of people angry with the NBCC because of issues about putting MBC (Metastatic Breast Cancer) under the bus literally. My fearless friends have real reasons to be upset. Here is an organization that has educated so many women who have had to hear the words “You or a loved one has breast cancer.” They have an incredible program called Project LEAD which is an intensive six-day course teaching the science and very important advocate issues about breast cancer.

MusaSmI have learned a great deal from Project LEAD, LEADcasts, summits and attending Breast Cancer Symposiums that stemmed from first learning with the NBCC about breast cancer. Great scientists, researchers, doctors and leaders of breast cancer advocacy taught me the grim statistics that now in the US alone 108 women die a day of MBC (metastatic breast cancer). That’s one woman every 14 minutes. There are also men but the stats are less. In 1975 there were 112 deaths a day in the US from MBC. It’s 2013. Four less deaths a day is not much progress when it comes to death rates.

So here was my dilemma. The NBCC who taught us about the death rates has a campaign to end breast cancer in 2020. So what happens to the metastatic patient while they figure out how to get a vaccine to end breast cancer?

There has been a lot of differences of opinion within the breast cancer community and understandably so. If you are only preventing breast cancer and preventing metastatic breast cancer what of the person diagnosed as metastatic. The very people they say they are helping…Are they really helping them?

I went to symposium expecting to come home finished with them. But my mind was open. I saw that Musa Meyer was going to the conference. She is the head of the advanced metastatic breast cancer organization. She is committed to the advanced breast cancer community and through her website http://www.advancedbc.org and the BCMets,org online community Musa focuses daily with BCMETS.org by helping women with MBC and their families understand treatment options and emerging research.abc

There was also an impressive line up of speakers. Dr Dennis Slamon gave a great talk. He is best known for being instrumental in the identification of the Her2/neu oncogene and the resulting treatment of tratusunab (Herceptin) which has been hailed as the first triumph in an emerging wave of targeted therapies. Some other speakers included Dr. Susan Love, Dr. Michael Baum, Dr. Peter Lee, and Dr. Barrett Kramer to name a few. In my next post I will be writing more about what some of these speakers spoke about.susan-love-cancer-20130213-001

Shirley Mertz of the MBCN (Metastatic Breast Cancer Network) was also at the conference. If leading metastatic breast cancer patients and their organizations were getting behind the deadline, and I have always supported the NBCC, I owed it to myself and Advocates for Breast Cancer to attend and make up my mind.

The most moving plenary session I attended was called “Effectively Targeting Metastasis in Breast Cancer.” First Shirley Mertz spoke to us, endorsing Deadline 2020. She talked about the differences between early stage breast cancer patients and MBC. 80-90% of all breast cancer patients start at early stage breast cancer. Early stage can be anything from DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) which is pre-cancer and a little more complicated but for this post I will leave the explanation as that. Early stage cancer can also be cancer that is contained in the breast where someone might only need a lumpectomy or a mastectomy and/or radiation depending on the size of the tumor and whether there is lymph node involvement. Otherwise another early stage breast cancer is when the cancer travels to the lymph nodes and the patient could have a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and/or radiation and/or a mastectomy but the most important thing to understand about early stage is that one is told they have a 70% chance of survival and many do whatever treatments that are recommended or they feel will work and after treatment some prescribed medications depending on their pathology. Some also choose alternative therapies. For most early stage patients, when they “finish primary treatment”  and are told they have NED (No Evidence of Disease) they can have the chance of knowing they may be “cured.” Then they are told they have a 30% chance of a metastatic recurrence that can happen at any time, but at least there is an end point to the treatment. Of course there are many side effects and I am oversimplifying “treatment” as an end point but I am trying to show the differences between early stage breast cancer and MBC. MBC is chronic and so far there is no known “cure”.

IMG_5124Shirley explained about how she goes for chemotherapy infusions and where she goes there are early stage patients getting chemo and when they get their last treatment they have a special bell and everyone celebrates their end point of chemotherapy treatment. When one has metastatic breast cancer there is no end point to treatment so Shirley remembers the joy of knowing there was an end point but unfortunately for the MBC patient this will never happen. There are also people with inflammatory breast cancer which is an unbelievably aggressive form of breast cancer that many do not survive. Again for simplicity I am just trying to show the many differences that exist in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment options.

After Shirley Mertz, Suzanne Faqua PHD continued talking with us about the science involved and critical issues in metastasis research. Suzanne is a professor in the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. She specializes in metastatic research especially working with hormone positive MBC.

She explained the way current science recognizes the need to study not only the primary tumor but looking at the similarities and differences of the heterogeneity of a metastatic tumor. As we look at the critical issues in metastatic research our approach is important. For optimal targeted therapy we must identify key pathways (key drivers), block the pathway completely, anticipate escape mechanisms and block them too, and explore combination therapy. She talked about studies related to PIK3CA status in blood, liquid biopsies, circulating tumor cells and how we must do targeted therapies in human trials. Her talk had some of the complicated science involved with tumor dormancy, including the fact that there aren’t current dormancy-cell killing drugs in clinical trials. This needs to change.

Some of her personal perspective of the critical issues in metastasis research includes the need for us to get the pace moving. We have to change the dogma that “The horse is out of the barn” so we can prevent metastasis. There is a lack of clear “drivers” to target. Suzanne also spoke about how important it is to now understand the metastatic tumors and be able to collect tissue samples from biopsies of metastatic tumors and analyze them. Apparently there is a problem within the research community where the researchers want to study the tissue samples from metastatic tumors and how there is difficulty getting theses samples. The woman sitting next to me said she gave her samples and is disappointed that researchers aren’t getting their samples. Another problem is funding. Negative funding will slow and halt progress. That’s why Lobby Day was so important and we also need to keep the program at the DOD (Department of Defense) going so we continue vital research especially when it comes to metastasis.

The NBCC is going to have a special meeting in June with scientists, doctors and metastatic breast cancer patient advocates to study metastatic breast cancer and tumor dormancy. The science is complicated. But someone explained to me that the basics are if the scientists can take the metastatic patients and get their metastatic tumors to go back to sleep and not spread any further, they can go on to live with the disease for many years. The best way I can understand and explain it is that with AIDS they have not found “the cure” but they have found medications that allow people to continue to live with AIDS and they can live for a very long time.

This information is very important to me. I know I have written about the death of my best friend from MBC who survived and thrived through primary chemo with me and lived as long as she could with triple negative MBC. I have so many friends with metastatic breast cancer now, and met some really special new friends at the conference and I have written about how upset I am that they need to have more money dedicated to metastatic research.

One of the difficult things in the breast cancer world is that different organizations have different agendas. Sometimes there are clashes. I am someone who wants everyone to work together. I believe in teamwork. It is the spirit of teamwork that helps me understand the mistakes of the past with breast cancer and pink culture yet try to move forward with my advocacy.

This is what I gained from the people who are committed to deadline 2020. Advocates are working in every way they can to see an end to this disease so that we don’t have to have our sons and daughters hear the words “you or a loved one has breast cancer.”pink_425x320

I understand that some people are moving on from the NBCC and others like me and many of my new friends that I met in DC are supporting the NBCC. For those that don’t want to support them, please know I understand your point of view and I am not going to tell anyone they have to feel the same as I do. This was my experience at the conference. This is what I went away feeling that I am doing what I believe is right for myself and my organization. I am passionate about my advocacy and making a difference with breast cancer and nothing will change that. I hope that one day this horrible disease can be contained and women can go on to live happy productive lives with the most quality of life that they can as result of the scars that come with this disease.

I respect that others see some of what the NBCC is doing with a different lens. When it comes to our passion and intentions, we are all on the same side. What is most important is that we respect each other and work towards ending this disease in every form while we continue to place much emphasis on metastatic research.

Setting a deadline is always a good idea to set goals and try to reach them. Had we never set a goal to get a man on the moon we never would have footage of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon and saying thDepartment_of_Defense[1]e famous words, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Lobby Day was also important to get bipartisan agreement and congressional representatives to sign “The Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act”, H.R. 1830, and that we continued to get the funding support for the Peer-Reviewed Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP).

I also met some amazing new fearless friends many who currently are metastatic and have such interesting stories. As we all know it is our unique stories that move us to understand more about this horrible disease and fuels us to do whatever we can to help one another in this land of cancer.

I am so glad I went to DC and came back with all of this hope as well as meeting great new friends. The Summit was so much at once and my only criticism is that they packed in so much that we didn’t even have a break during meals because there were speeches and meetings during the whole time. Even though it was exhausting, the Summit was really worth it. Hope is a great thing to have in our lives.

Donna Peach – Danced in to the Light

donnaLast 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.

Valerie Harper Inspires

I am so touched by Valerie Harper. As I am sure my readers are aware , not only is Valerie an incredibly accomplished actress, but her warmth and grace has been so touching during this terrible diagnosis of leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare condition that happens when cancer cells invade into the fluid-filled membrane that surrounds the brain. She has been told by her doctors she will likely be able to survive about three months.

I had the good fortune to meet Valerie at a hair salon that I used to go to. She was always down to earth and always friendly while at the salon to others. When I thought her appointment was ahead of mine she told me it was not and that I was to take my turn.

valerie-harper-00-300She has bravely gone on television, visiting The Today Show, The Doctors, The Talk, Good Morning America , and spoken with People Magazine. Each interview had her glowing with life accepting her diagnosis when you know she is in shock. It is so wonderful to see such a loving relationship with her husband.

She is also a lung cancer survivor. She never smoked. So many lung cancer survivor’s never  smoked or quit a very long time before their diagnosis. I think that lung cancer is the cruelest of all cancers because so many people assume it’s only from smoking and I know many people who have had or are living with lung cancer and they are all non smokers. It’s a disease that deserves no blame. There is a campaign around lung cancer where we attach the words, “no stigma”. Meanwhile Valerie caught the lung cancer early and survived it.

Now she faces such a difficult diagnosis. We see her looking healthy and beautiful and as so many with metastatic cancer do. People are surprised because they not look as though they are very ill especially at the beginning of their diagnosis. Different cancers at different metastatic stages are like that and each one has a different set of statistics for how much time a patient has a chance of living. With my close friend Li when she was metastatic we often talked about living through the dying and making the most of the time we have. Like Valerie we wanted quality of life, not quantity.

There is a wonderful article by Donna Kaufman in I Village that talks about the 10 most inspiring things we’ve learned from Valerie Harper that I am going to copy and paste here. Valerie’s courage and willingness to share this private part of her life with all of us teaching us so much is just beautiful.

The 10 Most Inspiring Things We’ve Learned from Valerie Harper

1. Don’t blame yourself for tragedy. “If you die, you’re not a failure,” Harper said on Today. ‘You’re just somebody who had cancer. And that’s the outcome.”

2. Live in this moment, right now. “I’m not dying until I do,” Harper told Today. “I have an intention to live each moment fully.”

3. Remember that death is part of life. “I really want Americans, all of us, to be less afraid of death,” Harper said on The Doctors. “Know that it’s a passage, but don’t go to the funeral before the funeral. While you’re living, live.”

4. Let yourself be sad — but stay hopeful. “I don’t mean this to be Pollyanna! I allow myself the grief,” Harper told Today‘s Savannah Guthrie, when asked if she ever felt sad. “What I’m saying is keep your consciousness, your thoughts open to infinite possibility and keep yourself open to miracles.”

5. Don’t give in to despair when there’s more pasta to eat. When Harper first heard her diagnosis, she said on The Doctors, “I broke down. I absolutely sobbed. I let myself do it. Then I said, ‘Okay, you’ve been the drama queen. Now get over it and make the pasta.'”

6. Deal with your battles in the way that makes sense to you. When one of the Doctors asked Harper why she was spending her final days on a press tour, she responded, “Dr. Travis, this is not for everyone. This is my way of dealing with it.”

7. Don’t live in denial. “I’m trouble,” Harper admitted in a video message for People, “but when the smoke clears, I’ll be standing. Until I’m not. And I’m ready for that, too.”

8. Don’t forget to live just because you’re dying. “‘Incurable’ is a tough word. A lot of people were calling — ‘Can I come by the house?’ ‘Are you in a wheel chair?’ — because they hear it as this death sentence,” Harper said on Today. “Which it may be. But I’m not dying until I do. I promise I won’t.”

9. Never be afraid of what’s next. “I don’t know what’s ahead, but I’m ready for it. Onward!” Harper told fans in her People message. “I love you. And know that I’m okay. I am okay on this venture.”

10. Keep your loved ones close. Harper says she’ll be spending her last months with her husband and daughter while she undergoes treatments to try to slow the progress of her disease. “My doctor said it’s incurable — so far,” Harper said on GMA. “And I love that possibility. We all need to live in infinite possibility.”

Valerie speaks of how important it is not to blames oneself for a cancer diagnosis. She talks about living in the moment and not focusing on the dying. She says to deal with your battles in your way. For her it was going on Television and speaking to her fans. Most important she speaks of keeping family close. Even though she knows that her disease is “incurable”, she still lives in a world of “infinite possibility.”

Her message is one of so much hope for so many that have faced incredible obstacles in their lives. I just love everything about Valerie!