Actress Marcia Strassman Died From Metastatic Breast Cancer

October 31, 2014


Another great post by Katherine O’Brien on a celebrity who died of mbc.

Originally posted on ihatebreastcancer:

Actress Marcia Strassman was one of very few public figures to openly discuss her Stage IV breast cancer

Actress Marcia Strassman was one of very few public figures to openly discuss her Stage IV breast cancer

Marcia Strassman, the actress best known for her roles in “Welcome Back Kotter” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” died from metastatic breast cancer  this month at age 66. My condolences to her friends and family.

Strassman was something of a hero to me because she was the only famous living person I knew with metastatic breast cancer. I have been on the same drugs as Strassman, so of course I took inspiration that she lived with the disease for seven years.

The actress was one of very few high profile people to talk about having metastatic breast cancer–see this Stand Up 2 Cancer video. Elizabeth Edwards was the last national figure in recent years to share her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. When Marcia Wallace (the actress who voiced Mrs…

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For People Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer: Change is Coming

October 18, 2014
Marc Hurlbert, Alliance project leader; Karen Durham, patient advocate, DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers; Shirley Mertz, MBCN

Marc Hurlbert, Alliance project leader; Karen Durham, patient advocate, DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers; Shirley Mertz, MBCN

By Katherine O’Brien, MBCN Secretary


This past Monday, I joined MBCN board members Shirley Mertz and Ginny Knackmuhs in New York City for a press conference. On October 13–National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day– the MBC Alliance released the results of its Landscape Report, Changing the Landscape for People Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer.

Over the past the year, the Alliance, which represents 29 cancer organization, conducted a comprehensive analysis of current MBC research and patient needs, as well as information and services. As I listened to the presentations, I was reminded of something John F. Kennedy said about the early days of his presidency: “When we got into office, the thing that surprised me most was to find that things were just as bad as we’d been saying they are.”

Key findings of the Changing the Landscape report include:

  • Research: More funds need to be directed to MBC-focused research. $1.0B invested since 2000 in research grants specifically focused on MBC was identified, or only 7%, of the $15-billion invested in breast cancer research grants included in our study. The majority focused on understanding the key processes of metastasis.
  • Clinical trials: 169 clinical trials testing ‘targeted’ therapies for MBC were identified, addressing 7 common traits shared by all cancers. Opportunities exist to reduce barriers to patient participation in trials and to update the design of trials to address endpoints important for MBC.
  • Quality of Life: More needs to be done to meet the needs of patients and families. Patients with metastatic breast cancer have unique emotional, physical and psychosocial needs, many of which are unmet by health care providers and support organizations. There is limited quality of life research conducted on the needs of minority or poor populations living with MBC.
  • Patient education and support services: MBC Alliance members provide significant support and information to people living with MBC. However, opportunities exist to make information about MBC across agencies more consistent and easily understood, to develop metrics that measure the reach and impact of programs and services, and to reach into underserved communities regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, culture or geography.
  • Epidemiology: Improving care requires documenting the number of MBC patients, how long they live, and how well they respond to treatments. Population-based data are needed on early breast cancer patients who experience a recurrence after early stage diagnosis.

In the course of my professional career as a journalist covering the printing industry, I must have attended hundreds of press conferences. It is my job–I routinely cover such events objectively and impersonally. Of course this press conference was very different. As I sat in the audience, I had to stop myself several time from yelling out such things as “Amen!” or “Tell it!” or “Thank you!” But I gave silent voice to all of those comments.

I experienced a wide range of emotions–I felt a surge of pride as Shirley Mertz stepped up to the microphone to chair the event. MBCN is a founding member of the MBC Alliance–and Shirley has worked so hard to make this happen, as has Ginny Knackmuhs, our fellow board member and Shirley’s fellow steering committee member.

I also had a feeling of disbelief–after years, was this finally happening? I am a relative newcomer to the cause–I have only been here five years. But when MBCN was founded 10 years ago, there was no support–let alone acknowledgement–of people living with MBC. On Monday, we all thought of MBCN’s late former president, Ellen Moskowitz. “What would Ellen have said?” we all wondered.

I felt validated–particularly as I heard  patient advocate Karen Durham tell her story. Karen, who lives near Dallas, was diagnosed with an aggressive stage II invasive breast cancer at the age of 38. Her cancer came back some two decades later.  Like me, she has been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2009. She said that many friends don’t really understand what she’s going through. “When you’re living with metastatic breast cancer, every month counts,” she said, as noted in this Forbes article. “Crummy is my new normal. And I’m glad to have that.”

Dr. Ruth Oratz and Dr. Robert Schneider,  both of the New York University School of Medicine, offered their views of the report. Dr  Oratz noted that the quality of life chart showed that needs for people with MBC have not changed since 2006. She praised the multidisciplinary effort, noting that it covered all modalities.

Dr. Schneider called the report “remarkable.”  “It’s an extraordinary report, one that quantifies what we’ve all suspected,” he said. “It gives us momentum for moving forward.”  He went on to say that although the Alliance research pegs the amount of MBC-focused research at 7%, he puts it closer to 3%. “There’s a lot of largely tissue culture work,” he said. “That does not advance [our knowledge]; almost none of that is translational research.” He called for a clearinghouse of mouse models to be created, for rare diseases such as inflammatory breast cancer to be studied and for academia and industry to step up to overcome NIH funding cuts as well as the agency’s reluctance to support research that does not fit within certain narrow confines.

Metastatic breast cancer has no celebrity spokesperson. At the Alliance press conference we met an excellent candidate for the job:  NFL player DeAngelo Williams. Williams, a running back with the Carolina Panthers lost his mom to MBC this past May. Although DeAngelo also has lost four aunts to breast cancer, it wasn’t until recently that he heard the term metastatic breast cancer. “We gravitate toward what effects us,” DeAngelo said, explaining why he contacted the Alliance.

Finally, I felt a sense of urgency.

As Shirley Mertz said, our lives depend on what the Alliance does. I am both sobered to think of the work to come and excited to help do it.


The full landscape report can be found at

Ginny D: Being More and Doing Less

October 2, 2014

Reblogging this post from Katherine O’Brien’s I hate breastcancer blog:  Ginny D: Being More and Doing Less.

 ginnydI was sorry to learn that Virginia “Ginny” Dimpfl died last night at age 58. Because I have another friend named Ginny (Ginny Knackmuhs, my fellow MBCN board member), I thought of  her as “Ginny D.”  Ginny K lives in New Jersey and is thus “East Coast Ginny.” Ginny D lived in San Francisco and was therefore, “West Coast Ginny.”

Ginny D.  and I spoke on the phone several times in the past few months–she was interested in volunteering with the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. Ginny D. spent the past two decades in marketing communications with Hewlett Packard. She must have been perfect for that job–she was warm, organized and direct–within a few minutes of our first conversation, she had outlined a great idea for MBCN’s annual conference. She had energy and enthusiasm–I really looked forward to meeting her in person.

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Joan Lunden, Give Me a Call

October 1, 2014

Guest blogger: Please welcome Sherri, a nurse who is new at blogging. Follow her at

I promised my mother I would not do anything edgy before October breast cancer awareness month (ugh), but standing in line at Wegmans yesterday I knew there would be no holding back once I got home.

joan lunden

People Magazine Cover

You see, as I stood there in line, beautiful, bald Joan Lunden stared back at me on the cover of People magazine with the quote, “I will beat this!” It made me so angry I just had to look away. I wanted to speed dial her and set her straight. I imagined she would pick up the phone and I would say,

“Joan. Listen, you have it all wrong. You don’t get to decide if you will beat cancer – the cancer does.”

And then I would go on to educate her on cancer that stays in the breast versus cancer that leaves it and what a disservice it is to women and families who deal with the diagnosis of terminal breast cancer and how they might worry that they had not fought as hard as say, Joan Lunden, and that’s why they were dying. Oh, I’ve gone and gotten myself started!

October is a rough month for women who are living and dying with metastatic breast cancer. I have so much I want to write about! Stay tuned.

Saluting Peter Devereaux, Male Breast Cancer Advocate (1962-2014)

August 23, 2014




Pete Devereaux died last week at age 52. Pete was a Marine, a champion athlete and a patient advocate who brought greater awareness not only to male breast cancer in general but to his 82 fellow Marines who were stationed at Camp Lejeune and later diagnosed with male breast cancer due to a contaminated water supply. ( This is the largest reported cluster of male breast cancer.)

I met Pete last year when served as a  patient introducer for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network’s (MBCN’s) annual conference. (You can watch Pete’s video here.)

Pete was  initially diagnosed with stage 3b male breast cancer on January 11th, 2008. After noticing a lump, Pete called his doctor and had a mammogram, ultrasound and core biopsy. “A few days later the doctor called me up and said I had male breast cancer,” Pete recalled. “I asked him if he was calling the right patient. I was in complete shock.”

Pete had a mastectomy and 22 cancerous lymph nodes removed, followed by 14 months of treatment (29 chemotherapy and 30 radiation appointments). Just three days before his last appointment in April 2009, Pete started experiencing shooting pain up and down his spine. “At my last scheduled appointment I had scans that revealed my cancer had traveled to my spine, ribs and hip,” Pete said. “I have metastatic breast cancer.”

Pete was one of three men with metastatic breast cancer who attended MBCN’s 2013 conference. When I think of Pete, I hear his distinctive Bostonian accent and I see his smile and his big bald head. I loved Pete’s sense of humor–we hit it off right away when we met in Houston.

Someone else in Pete’s shoes might have been bitter–that was not Pete’s way. He was a doer–not a  complainer. He is featured in “Semper Fi” a documentary about the contamination at Camp LeJeune and did countless television and print interviews to share the story of Marines with male breast cancer.

If  the American Cancer Society  or Komen or other group were having a fundraiser, Pete was there. Pete was part of the group that successfully lobbied to establish Oct. 13 as National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. When MBCN teamed with Dana Farber to put on a metastatic breast cancer seminar, Pete was part of the organizing committee. He was a proud graduate of Project Lead, a 5-day course on the science of breast cancer in San Diego, put on by the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

“I continue to attend as many events as I can and am always open to speaking about male and metastatic breast cancer,” Pete said. Indeed, as reported here, Pete was the featured speaker at the June 2014 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Boston. He was in a wheelchair, but he was there, and sounded like the same old Pete.

Pete often paid tribute to his wife of 18 years, Fiona Maguire.

“I always knew that my wife was a cool, pretty chick. But this cute little Irish girl is a bad-ass,” Pete told a Salem, NH reporter. “Little do you know at the beginning how much (you’ll go through). Our love went to a whole new level.”

Our sincere condolences to Fiona and all of Pete’s family and many friends.
A funeral mass will be celebrated on Monday, August 25, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. in St. Michael’s Church, 196 Main Street, North Andover, MA. Burial will follow at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Salem, MA.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Peter C. Devereaux Fund, TD Bank North, 451 Andover Street, North Andover, MA 01845.


Metastatic Breast Cancer Events 2014: Mark Your Calendar

August 8, 2014

Hi everyone. We hope you are enjoying your summer. We wanted to share a quick overview of upcoming metastatic breast cancer events in Chapel Hill, NC; Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago.  I will be at three (!) of these events and look forward to meeting some of you there. Is there a metastatic meeting in your city we should know about? Please comment below.

–Katherine O’Brien

Secretary, MBCN


NC_StateIconThe Metastatic Breast Cancer Network’s (MBCN’s) 2014 Annual Conference In Conjunction with UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

WHO: People living with metastatic breast cancer and their spouses, partners, friends and caregivers

WHEN: September 19-21, 2014

WHERE: UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Chapel Hill, NC

                                                    MORE INFORMATION:

NOTES:  MBCN’s signature annual event starts with a Friday night reception and goes on to include a full day of  Saturday sessions and a half day on Sunday. There are at total of five main sessions across the two days; attendees can choose among more than 20 breakout sessions on everything from the latest news on their specific subtype to insurance issues, talking to younger kids about MBC and special issues in the African American community and more. (See the  details here.) We expect attendees from across the US as well as Canada. Make your hotel reservations soon; our block of rooms “hold” ends on Sept. 1.


phillyLBBC’s  (Living Beyond Breast Cancer) ANNUAL FALL CONFERENCE

WHO: People living with breast cancer

WHEN: September 27, 2014

WHERE:Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia


NOTES: The Metastatic Track includes two  presentations from Dr. Clifton Hudis (“Metasatic Breast Cancer: Treatment Stategies” and “Metastatic Breast Cancer: Clinical Trials” as well as Dr. Pamela Ginsberg on “Living Fully, Managing Uncertainty.”



WHEN: October 11, 2014

WHERE: Olympic Collection Banquet Hall / 11301 Olympic Blvd / West Los Angeles, CA 90064


RSVP: Contacting Gwen Barker at 310-575-3011 or

NOTES: This event focuses on those living with metastatic breast cancer and will provide information and resources about treatment options, emotional wellbeing, nutrition, and more. Prominent experts including Dr. Patricia Ganz of UCLA, Dr. James Waisman of City of Hope, Dr. Rena Callahan of UCLA, and Dr. Yara Salman of USC will discuss metastatic breast cancer. The Los Angeles County Affiliate of Susan G. Komen is producing this event with the support of Anthem Blue Cross.



WHEN: Saturday,  October 18, 2014  ( morning). More details coming soon!

WHERE: Boston

NOTES: Sponsored by Dana Farber Cancer Institute, MBCN and Susan G. Komen



WHEN: Sunday, October 19, 2014 (9:00 a.m to 12:30 p.m.)

WHERE: Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, 303 E. Superior St., Chicago  Baldwin Auditorium – See:

MORE INFORMATION: Register online or call 312.695.1390. Walk-ins welcome.

NOTES: This program, held specifically for Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) patients, or Stage IV patients, and their families, is hosted in partnership with the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. Learn about key developments in the field of metastatic treatment, meet others living with MBC and network with local advocacy organizations. This free program includes a light breakfast and discounted parking. Come and hear Virginia Kaklamani, MD, DSc; William Gradishar, MD and MBCN’s own Shirley Mertz. The annual Lynn Sage Town Hall meeting follows.

Remembering Joani Gudeman (1964-2014)

July 27, 2014
Joani was a wonderful advocate; she's shown here participating in a 2013 video

Joani was a wonderful advocate; she’s shown here participating in a 2013 video

We are sorry to share that our friend and fellow board member Joani Gudeman died Friday, July 25, 2014 at age 50.  There will be a memorial service for Joani at Chicago Sinai Congregation, 15 W Delaware Place, Chicago on Friday, August 15 at 10 a.m. All are invited.


Joani told her story as the one of the patient introducers at MBCN’s 2013 conference in Houston. “I’m Joani,” she said. “I’m a wife, mother of two teenage boys, a dog lover, mystery reader, a vegetarian, trained listener, board member of MBCN and a person with metastatic breast cancer.”


In those few sentences, Joani set out her priorities: family first and cancer last. It is also telling that, with typical modesty, Joani referred to herself as a trained listener. Until recently, Joani was a practicing psychotherapist.


Originally from the Northeast, Joani came to the Midwest to attend Lawrence University in Wisconsin. From there, she went on to Chicago to attend the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Professional Psychology.


Although her official capacity with MBCN was Chair of Outreach and Volunteers, she also served in an unofficial capacity as a diplomat, consensus builder and in-house counselor. She patiently assessed and addressed the issue at hand. If the solution meant extra work for her—such as painstakingly reviewing and revising a lengthy and technical patient publication, she neither complained nor sought the accolades she deserved. She just did it.


“Our work together has helped me in so many ways,” Joani told us a few weeks ago. “Not only have I learned so much from each of your incredible talents and skills, I have been touched by your passion, love and commitment.  Working with you all gave me purpose, provided needed distraction and pushed me to expand myself in new ways.”


Joani touched us all in so many ways. In one of my last email exchanges with her, I told Joani I was thinking of her as I wrestled with some outreach tasks she previously handled. As I dealt with one particularly challenging call, I had to contain my impatience. I told Joani I needed a WWJD bracelet: What Would Joani Do?


That is a question we will be asking ourselves often in the weeks and months to come. Our heartfelt condolences to David, Jacob and Samuel and all of Joani’s family and friends.


–Katherine O’Brien


Interment will be private. A public service celebrating Joani’s  life will be held shortly. We will  share the information when we receive it.


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