Like it or not, October is here.
This month, breast cancer survivors celebrate their successful completion of treatment with fundraisers and programs focused on awareness, prevention and early detection. But for those of us living with metastatic breast cancer, the primary messages of Breast Cancer Awareness Month remind us that we don't get to celebrate the end of treatment.
While we are grateful for the many good drugs to help manage late stage cancer, no drugs can "cure" metastatic disease, therefore we will be in treatment for life.
Up to 30 percent of patients diagnosed with earlier-stage breast cancer will eventually develop stage 4 breast cancer, meaning their cancer will recur and spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. Almost three years after my initial stage 2 diagnosis, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer to the lungs, liver and bones.
So, in the name of breast cancer awareness, here's a crash-course lesson into the exhausting "Scan, Treat and Repeat" cycle of living with stage 4 breast cancer: In May, a scan revealed that my treatment regimen wasn't keeping my breast cancer under control, which meant it was time to find a new drug. First I tried an IV chemotherapy, but it didn't work. Next, I underwent a barrage of baseline scans to enroll in a clinical trial, except I was rejected when they discovered a small metastasis in my brain. Great...because having advanced cancer while raising an active two-year old isn't enough. All I need is another hurdle to jump. Despite the fact it is fairly common for breast cancer to travel to the brain, some trials reject patients who have ever had brain mets, further reducing the number of treatment options available to me. And somewhere in the scramble to find a new medication, the achy bones and arthritic joints that have become part of daily life morphed into severe, debilitating pain.
My sanity depends on my ability to live life in spite of cancer, but the combination of pain and time spent in the doctor's office was making it impossible to do. I had been refusing radiation in hopes the next drug I tried would work quickly enough to relieve the pain, but when pain prevented me from chasing Henry around or getting a decent night's rest, even I had to say uncle.
After a few weeks of radiation, my pain is gone, I'm slowly regaining my energy, and I have started a new drug with minimal side effects. Gamma Knife radiation worked on my brain mets, but we will likely need to treat another spot or two. Stage 4 can be like a game of whack-a-mole: Zap one area, then another one pops up.
Right now, if only for a few short weeks until my next CT scan, life is good. My two favorite guys and I celebrated the end of our tough summer with a week at the beach, playing in the waves and shutting out the rest of the world. Each day I try my best to stay optimistic and assume my new treatment is working, which means I am able to enjoy the life I'm fighting so hard to hold on to.
Carrie Corey was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at age 29 and with a stage 4 recurrence in 2012 at the age of 31. She is a wife and new mom living in Dallas, and will be reporting frequently on her cancer experiences.