At my first conference for young women affected by breast cancer, I remember the other ladies talking about how their metastatic breast cancer started with a cough. Then, after that day, every time I got a cold, I was terrified.
I remember once suggesting maybe the women with MBC needed a separate support group. To not scare the early-stagers, you know? Or maybe, more selfishly, to not scare myself.
I spent my first cancer-free year insulating myself from all things related to recurrence and MBC and you know what happened?
Ten years after she beat breast cancer for the second time, my grandmother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It was like my worst fear was at my neighbor’s doorstep; close enough to force me to pay attention.
This was not the happy cancer journey ending I was used to. There would be no more bells to ring at the end of treatment because there would be no end of treatment for her.
Suddenly, her issues were my issues. I needed to understand everything I could. My mom needed to understand everything she could. I had to teach my mom how to advocate for my grandmother like I learned to advocate for myself. I had no time to be afraid; I needed to be informed.
And that’s when the light switched for me.
Pretending metastatic breast cancer didn’t exist, didn’t really stop it from existing; it didn’t lower my chance of recurrence; it didn’t mean I’d never be in the 30 percent of early-stagers who later develop MBC. Pretending metastatic breast cancer didn’t exist only meant I was uninformed, and that I was ignoring the plight of thousands of people literally dying to be seen and heard.
And how could I ignore the struggles of my grandmother receiving an accurate diagnosis? How could I overlook the lack of resources for the ladies in my support group? How could I turn a blind eye to the need for research when there’s a steady stream of young women passing away on my social media timelines?
I couldn’t any more. I could never again.
We don’t need to be afraid when a woman shares how she discovered her MBC diagnosis, we need to educate ourselves about the symptoms of a recurrence.
We don’t need separate support groups to not scare the “early-stagers,” we need more empathy and understanding and acknowledgement of a very real possibility for all of us.
We don’t need to pretend MBC doesn’t exist, we need to amplify the obstacles faced by this segment of our community.
There is no “us” and “them.” There’s only “we.” And we must fight for each other like we’d want someone to fight for us.