The number of those who died of metastatic breast cancer in the United States in 1989 was 43,000.
There are fancy ways of manipulating statistics based on total populations, incidence rates, mortality rates, etc., but when it comes down to brass tacks, we're still losing roughly the same number of people every year in the United States alone.
The number of those who died of metastatic breast cancer in the United States in 2015 is 40,290. Neither of these numbers include the men who have died of this disease.
Are these numbers anything to be proud of? The statistics would say that there has been a significant decrease in deaths, but the hard, real numbers indicate otherwise.
I've lived more than half my life without my mother. Yes, the pain is gone, but there are places deep within me that truly miss her. I wish for many things, but I've learned to place wishes in a pretty little jar and to place them on a shelf.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 1988. She died on July 2, 1989. I don't know much of her disease. In fact, I know nothing. One of these days, I will probably try to find her medical records on microfiche, but I have no idea if that's even possible after all this time.
I do know that I thought I knew a lot about breast cancer based on my mother's experience. I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2012. I'm still here after 4.5 years, whereas my mother had only 13 months. We do have better treatments available to us, but they are not cures. Those treatments merely slow down the disease, not stop it.
In July 2012, I returned to the United States from China to continue what we thought would be primary treatment and then be done. Didn't happen that way. In January 2013, it was definitively known that I had metastatic disease throughout my spine, hips and rib. My original diagnosis was revised to Stage IV.
In July 2014, I had progression to my liver which resulted in change of treatments.
In July 2015, I had more progression to more bones which resulted in a long period of changing treatments to find the one the cancer may respond to. More radiation treatments to prevent a fracture in my left hip took center stage for the summer.
In June 2016, the cancer spread to my brain. Whole brain radiation, suspension of chemo until after radiation and a wonder about next summer and what it may bring.
I keep reading about the number of outstanding responders and how many of those with metastatic disease are living longer and longer these days. In some respects, this is true, but the fact remains:
MORE PEOPLE DIE OF METASTATIC DISEASE EACH YEAR THAN THOSE WHO ARE LIVING EXTENDED LIVES WITH THE SAME DISEASE. WE CANNOT REST ON THE LAURELS OF THOSE WHO LIVE LONGER.
We cannot be content with crumbs. Yes, I'm grateful for the available treatments that are extending my life. However, I'd much rather my life be physically saved. Living from treatment to treatment, from year to year, just doesn't really cut it. While no one can really say they will be here in the future, I'd like a bit more assurance that I will be at my daughter's high school graduation in 2018 and my son's high school graduation in 2020. Right now, I have absolutely zero confidence that either date will happen.
27 years. A long time. Way too long without significant research into the mechanics of metastatic disease. Ribbons didn't save my mother. Ribbons won't save me. No more ribbons.
I want more mothers living long enough to watch their daughters get married and have children. I want more women living long enough to achieve their dreams. I want more men to understand this isn't just a women's disease. I want metastatic patients to sit at the table with researchers to discuss what we really want.
We want more than treatments to extend our lives.
We want a cure.