Guest blogger: Sandra Bishnoi
Editor’s note: Sandra wrote this piece on October 16, her 39th birthday and shared her thoughts on attending the recent MBCN conference.
The last couple of days have been very memorable. I traveled back to Chicago on Friday October 12 for the 6th Annual Metastatic Breast Cancer Network Conference. This is the first breast cancer conference that I have attended since my diagnosis and needless to say, I was a bit nervous about the experience. I knew that I was bound to learn a lot about new therapies and treatments for metastatic disease, but I was concerned about the emotional toll that the conference might bring. I was nervous about meeting young women like me, struggling to balance a life-threatening disease during the so-called “prime” of our lives.
I have to say, that I met so many amazing and wonderful women at this conference. I met women in their 30’s who had been battling this disease for over 8 years. I cried when a woman described her fear of dying before her 5 year old son was able to grow up, but who also found the strength to make dramatic life changes and truly “live” her life. There are so many people out there who are struggling with one treatment after another to try and extend their life until they can find the treatment that will lead to a “cure”. We really don’t talk about “cures” when it comes to metastatic cancer, not because we don’t want one (or many) but because of the fear of not being able to find one.
I met a lot of angry women at this conference, too. They are pissed off about having to face death before the age of 40, mad that most of America is more fixated on “boobies”, breasts, and “tatas,” than the fact that 40,000 men and women are DYING of breast cancer every year. And they are angry that only 5% of all of the money raised by the “pink” organizations actually go to metastatic disease. I know that this is sadly a marketing issue, but somehow it needs to change.
I also learned some good technical information. I heard a good talk from Dr. Steven Chmura at the University of Chicago, who spoke about “oligometastasis” and breast cancer. This was a term that I had never heard before, but a category that I fit into. Oligometastasis encompasses those patients with limited metastatic disease, specifically it is those that have fewer than 5 metastatic lesions of which are 5 cm or less. The promising news was that the 5 yr survival rate for oligometastatic patients was 59.6% in a U of Chicago study, compared to 11.6% for patients with full-blown metastasic disease. I need to do some research on this, but I found it to be exciting news.
My two major takeaways from the conference were:
1) I am (unfortunately) not alone when it comes to being a young woman with metastatic disease and
2) There is a lot of work being done in the area of breast cancer treatment, which will help provide additional options for those suffering from this disease.
Overall, I left the conference with a lot of hope and some sadness. Sadness for those that I met that are truly fighting their cancer with everything they’ve got and suffering tremendously in the process. Let us all hope that we do find something that can change the outlook for those with metastatic disease before it is too late for these strong, courageous women.