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Lisa: Ignore the survival statistics

In 1994, I was 28 years old and diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. My initial treatment consisted of lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. I decided not to pursue follow-up treatment with hormonal therapy because at that time, there was not enough research showing the effectiveness of hormonal therapy in young women.

In 1999, I started to feel sluggish on the treadmill and had a cough. I asked my primary care physician if I should change my diet. Although she knew my medical history, she told me not to worry. I probably had asthma and getting tired is part of the aging process, after all I was 33 years old. It never occurred to either of us that my cancer could have come back. My initial breast tumor was small, I had opted for aggressive treatment and all of my yearly mammograms were clear. Also, my doctor told me that statistically I had more than a 90 percent chance of being cured. I had completely purged the breast cancer experience from my mind after five years of good health.

The metastatic cancer diagnosis came as a complete surprise. The treatment initially consisted of a year and a half chemotherapy, which eliminated all of the cancer in my right lung. However, I needed lung surgery to remove the remaining cancer in my lower left lung. After the surgery to remove my lower left lobe, I learned that the spot was an infection, not cancer. I was relatively healthy for over six years and alternated between a NED (No Evidence of Disease) status and having some small tumors in my right lung. During this time, I was treated with hormonal therapy.

In October 2007, my body became resistant to hormonal therapy and the cancer spread to my liver, bones and nodes in my chest. I have tried several different treatments with some success and will be starting a new chemotherapy regimen soon. Each time I change treatments (because my body has become resistant to the existing one), I must wait, wonder and hope that it works. I’m terrified of the day when I run out of options.

When I was diagnosed with metastatic disease, I thought I would be dead within a year, but I have now lived with the disease for nearly 10 years. I consider myself lucky for an unlucky person; most women with metastatic disease do not live very long. I am the only woman still alive from a young women’s metastatic support group that I was part of 8 years ago. I will never forget any of these women and feel that I need to carry the torch for all of them. In their honor I will continue to speak out about the needs for more and better treatment options.

If there is a positive thought that I can extend to women with metastatic breast cancer, it would be to ignore the survival statistics. I know this is a daunting task. However, I’ve known women who have been given a set number of months to live and have far surpassed everyone’s expectations. For the most part, I’ve been able to put the numbers out of my mind and have been able to enjoy many great experiences with my friends and family over the last 10 years.