Life, Redefined: Living Well With Metastatic Cancer

Living well with metastatic cancer means finding ways to accept the diagnoses and continue to move forward.
BY JEN SOTHAM
PUBLISHED: APRIL 20, 2017
LIVING WITH UNCERTAINTY

Some patients and practitioners find it frustrating to hear about cancers being treated as chronic diseases, since each type of cancer can include many subtypes, some less likely than others to respond to treatment.

Published statistics about survival rates for metastatic cancers can be discouraging, but it’s important to remember that these do not reflect the rapid progress being made in treatment.

The successes of newer treatments being tested in clinical trials are not included in these numbers, and most targeted drugs and immunotherapies that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat cancer are so new that 10-year survival rates have yet to be tabulated.

Shirley Mertz, president of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, has been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2003, and likes to remind herself that statistics won’t necessarily dictate her own experience. “I have lost many friends to this disease. Their deaths remind me of the reality that, at any point, my disease can progress and resist treatment,” she says. “I fight back the fear by reminding myself that I am a statistic of one.”
 
SANDRA SPIVEY has been living with metastatic breast cancer for nearly 20 years, and tries
not to let treatment interfere with special experiences, such as trips with her sisters.- KRISTIANNE KOCH RIDDLE
SANDRA SPIVEY has been living with metastatic breast cancer for nearly 20 years, and tries not to let treatment interfere with special experiences, such as trips with her sisters.- KRISTIANNE KOCH RIDDLE
Sandra Spivey, whose breast cancer became metastatic in 1998, takes a similar view. At the time, she researched her prognosis and found a median two-year survival rate of 30 percent and a fiveyear survival rate of 10 percent. “Well, the number isn’t zero,” thought Spivey. “People are living with this disease. Why can’t I be one of those people?”

No matter how hopeful or dire someone’s prognosis is, living with metastatic cancer typically does mean that ongoing treatment and/or surveillance will become a regular part of life. Still, it doesn’t have to be the most important part, experts point out.

Maggie Compernolle, RN, a nurse in the Oncology Department at Barnes- Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, says she has seen patients with metastatic cancer fare better when they don’t define themselves by their cancer, but rather allow it to be part of who they are and not all of who they are.



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