This is a running list of questions I’ve heard since being diagnosed with stage IV. It’s also a work in progress. If you have a question that isn’t answered here send it my way and I’ll do my best to answer it.
What is metastatic breast cancer?
Metastatic, or stage IV breast cancer, is cancer that originated in the breast but has spread to distant parts of the body such as the bones, liver, lungs, or brain.
Why do they call it breast cancer if it’s in your spine, brain, etc.?
The cancer always takes its name after the primary cancer and the site where it originated. When my cancer metastasized (or spread), a biopsy of my lymph nodes confirmed that it was breast cancer and not a new primary cancer.
Is there a cure?
There is no cure for stage IV cancer of any type.
How long will you have to undergo treatment?
Forever. Cancer cells are constantly mutating, so eventually my current drugs (Perjeta and Herceptin) will stop working and we will have to move on to another therapy. Treatment can also include radiation, which I have had on my back and brain.
Why do you have hair if you are still getting chemo?
I did lose all my hair when I was taking Taxotere, a potent chemotherapeutic drug. Right now I am on two immunotherapy drugs – Perjeta and Herceptin – and hair loss is not a side effect of those drugs. I will add that a) my hair came back curly, and b) it is growing much too slow for my liking.
How do you take your cancer drugs?
I have a surgically implanted port in my chest that is connected to a thin catheter which feeds into a vein. The whole thing is under my skin so all you see is a lump and two small scars. Every three weeks I go to the infusion clinic where one of the terrific oncology nurses accesses the port with a needle and a small attached catheter. Then the bags of drugs are attached to the catheter one at a time, and I spend 2-3 hours sleeping or reading while the drugs slowly drip into my system.
How is the cancer in your brain treated?
I have had two Gamma Knife procedures, which is a targeted radiation treatment that only zaps the cancerous parts of the brain. For more on Gamma Knife, see my previous CaringBridge post.
What is your life expectancy?
- That is a tough question on many levels. According to the National Cancer Institute’s SEER database, women with stage IV breast cancer have a 26% five year survival rate (that means 26% of women with stage IV are still alive five years following diagnosis). The science also says that women with metastases to the brain have a median survival time of 2-25 months.
With all that said, since my diagnosis I’ve met women who have survived for ten years and longer with stage IV. Right now, my cancer is well controlled in both my brain and body so we take it day by day and hope for the best.