Guess What? Cancer Still Kills People

So the Canada Breast Cancer Research Foundation has some new billboards up, thankfully not in this country. Because I for one would be compelled to go throw eggs at it! The ad shows a young pretty woman wearing pink, and the words “Because I never gave up.” Um, what? Excuse me?

In 2009, just in the US there were 40,170 women who died from breast cancer. Did they “give up?” I’m so tired of this idea that the patient is somehow responsible for their response to treatment. The media highlights how more and more women are surviving due to awareness and early detection, and that is great. But somehow we’ve sent out the message that breast cancer is curable or easily treatable, and that just isn’t always the case. A stage IV breast cancer patient lives an average of 2.5-3.5 years after diagnosis. That’s the reality, and no pretty young survivor in a pink t-shirt can change it.

I’ve had a few friends tentatively ask about my diagnosis– I think people are unsure of how to ask questions. Metastatic breast cancer isn’t talked about much and thankfully is less common than earlier-stage breast cancers. A distant metastis is when the cancer has spread to the bones, brain, or organs. Breast cancer that has spread only to the bones is a bit easier to manage than mets to the organs, but in both cases the disease is considered incurable. The best you can hope for is to manage the cancer to keep it at bay for as long as possible. Maybe long enough that someone will develop a cure. So that means chemo as long as it works, and when it stops switching to another and another. It means treatment for the rest of my life.

I don’t write all this to dwell on the negative. It’s not something that I brood about or really even worry about all that much. It is what it is. I’m not going to die tomorrow or next week or even next month. But this is the reality of my prognosis, and I need to accept it and live with it. (It’s not the most terrible thing in the world, actually. I would rather have my disease than a lot of others.) But someday, hopefully a long time from now, the cancer will win. And believe me, it won’t be because I will have “given up.” Those 40,000 women who died last year didn’t give up, either. They were dealt a lousy hand and had a disease that couldn’t be cured, not matter how much pink they wore or how many awful treatments they endured or how many desperate prayers were said.

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