Our Daily Lives

Survivor Shines Light on Metastatic Breast Cancer

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Giddy little "awareness" word games on Facebook tied puzzlingly to Breast Cancer Awareness Month can be horribly offensive to young survivors. Sally Drees got so upset by one that she decided to start something important: the 31-Day Project.

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Inciting Anger and Action

Into this most recent ill-conceived, inadvertently hurtful Facebook game with the pregnancy subtext stepped Sally Drees, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer almost five years ago, at age 36, while she was trying to get pregnant. She's a proud and loving stepmother to two boys, but breast cancer crashed into the choices she was making about continuing to build a family.

The diagnosis, the treatment and years of recurrence-prevention drugs (which can lead to birth defects while being taken and, so, are not compatible with pregnancy) would have been plenty to handle. But this past June, with the recommended treatment for her initial diagnosis at last drawing to an end, Drees was diagnosed with a distant, or metastatic, recurrence of the disease. Evidence of breast cancer was found in her abdomen, requiring a hysterectomy and placing Drees' cancer at Stage 4.

For Drees, this latest Facebook "awareness" meme incited her to anger and action. I spoke with her recently about how she's responding.

"I went to bed upset by it," she said, "and woke up at 4 a.m. thinking, 'Let me do my own.'"

In mid-September, Drees launched the 31-Day Project. The idea is to raise $41,000; a dollar for each life lost to breast cancer in this country annually.

Drees is promoting the goal mostly through social-media connections: "I'm thinking, let me see if I can educate people and raise some money along the way."

The funds will be divided between Metavivor, an organization that provides funding for research on metastatic breast cancer and support for those with this diagnosis, and the Pink Daisy Project, which helps younger women in treatment for breast cancer (of any stage) pay for child care, meals, gas, etc., so they can better focus on recovery. Both organizations were founded and are run by breast cancer survivors.

View of Awareness Altered

"My perspective on breast cancer 'awareness' has changed," Drees said. "I used to think my life was saved by these treatments and by relatively early detection. I'm not bitter, but the issues of metastatic breast cancer are central to me now."

Only 2 percent of funding for breast cancer research goes to metastatic breast cancer, even though this cancer isn't fatal unless it metastasizes, she added.

"Thirty percent of breast cancer cases will either begin at Stage 4 or get there. So why isn't 30 percent of the research money going there too? People see breast cancer as a 'bump in the road' kind of situation--fixable. But 30 percent is a big segment, and it's not acceptable," she said.

Drees' original plan was to conduct the project during the 31 days of October, in all its pink-ribbons-for-awareness glory.

But enthusiastic friends started spreading the word early (mostly via Facebook), and so the project began in mid-September and will continue until around Oct. 13, National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

After that Drees says there's no reason to cut the project off. "I'm happy to keep it going as long as people keep donating," she said with a laugh. So far, $7,921.87 (and counting) has been raised.

Drees is glad the irksome meme got her fired up.

"I could sit and dwell," she said, "but I'm much better served doing something. And the time to act on what we believe is not 'someday' but now."

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Pamela Grossman is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer, editor and medical advocate and an active member of the Young Survival Coalition and SHARE.

For more information:

31-Day Project:
http://www.causes.com/causes/632480-the-31-day-project-moving-beyond-awareness

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"Chemotherapy often brings on premature menopause, which may prove permanent. In any case, as my survivor friend Julie wrote in her blog, 'even if it's temporary, the years spent fighting our disease may have been the years we needed to start a family'. ...The diagnosis, the treatment and years of recurrence-prevention drugs (which can lead to birth defects while being taken and, so, are not compatible with pregnancy) would have been plenty to handle. But this past June, with the recommended treatment for her initial diagnosis at last drawing to an end, Drees was diagnosed with a distant, or metastatic, recurrence of the disease. Evidence of breast cancer was found in her abdomen, requiring a hysterectomy and placing Drees' cancer at Stage 4."
I would like to see breast cancer surviviors include in their focus, a look at the harm that chemotherapy and radiation does to them, destroying their very lives while destroying the breast cancer. The physicians/scientists involved put all other forms of treatment as something close to hoaxes, yet none of these kill you or your potential for having children, and many help to decrease and often end the breast cancer. The survival rate may be better than with radiation. We need more research on this, so women will not continue to be the pons of the medical, radiation, and drug industries. We need more research and education of people with cancer on the environmental causes of cancer, so that, too can be changed by the cancer sufferers, to move to a more healthy locale or to stop having access to what may be causing your cancer. The 'Run for a cure' and the memes are a way of trivializing women and making their concern for their and their relatives' and friends' appear to be helped by the emotion and by money raised for these destructive industries that may be killing them instead of helping them. Radiation has after effects in the body that cause new cancers several to many years later, thus the second and third cancers that kill may be from the radiation that helped with the first cancer. If your physician says this is not true, do not believe him. There was a time when heart problems were considered basically to just happen, and only the physicians’ orders for medication and occasional drastic surgery could help. Then, ordinary people and phyisicans who had lost faith in the medical treatments began to insist that diet and exercise may be the most important preventer and treatment for many heart diseases, and guess what, they are right, and we have a totally different view of heart disease today. This can and should happen with most cancers, including breast cancer.
Take your lives into your own hands and find out how to heal yourself, you can! My heart and my head are with you!

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