Metastatic Breast Cancer and Mental Health

In the past 5 years, I’ve worked to bring awareness to young women diagnosed with breast cancer and of women diagnosed with metastatic (Stage IV) breast cancer. Both populations are understudied, underfunded, and often unacknowledged in the main-stream breast cancer. This past week a powerful story in USA Today showed research is proving my reality:

“The number of these [young] women being diagnosed with advanced disease has tripled since the 1970s”

“The number of American women ages 25 to 39 diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer — which has already spread to other organs by the time it’s found — rose about 3.5% a year from 2000 to 2009, according to a study in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association.”

USA Today’s “Deadly Breast Cancers Are Rising In Young Women.”

CNN Health also covered the news “Metastatic Breast Cancer Rising In Patients Under 40

Whoa. The number of young women diagnosed Stage IV has tripled in my lifetime. And those numbers don’t account for many, like me, diagnosed “early stage” then progress to Stage IV.

I hope it’s a wake-up call and researchers turn their attention to metastatic cancer. I also hope donors fund their research. While 30% of women diagnosed with breast cancer will end up Stage IV, less than 2% of research funding is spent on Stage IV research. Don’t ignore Stage IV.

 

Although my posts usually revolve around breast cancer, there is something else I want to bring awareness to: mental health. My background is in social work, so I’m a bit familiar with some aspects of mental health which is also greatly underfunded. Breast cancer has made great progress in awareness (to the point of exploitation) in the last decade. I’m hoping that this post helps bring a bit of awareness to mental health.

Someone who has been in my life for over a decade was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years ago. While it may seem that breast cancer and bipolar disorder are two incredibly different diseases; it boils down to the body turning on itself. In my body, rouge cells built up into a tumor and spread. In her body, her mind has turned on her. If you want to label someone a “survivor,” it is her; after surviving multiple suicide attempts.

When I saw her this winter, she gave me a card with an inspiring quote:

To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded! -Emerson

With the card came a magnet of one of my favorite quotes:

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow” -Mary Anne Radmacher

Inside the card, she brilliantly connected the two diseases writing:

As you know, it’s hard for me to understand longing to live but being condemned to die. But I get having to wake up every day and face an unwanted reality. The “quiet voice courage” might be the most difficult kind of courage there is. Our completely opposite situations have brought profound connection and shared understanding/experience.

I’ll be completely honest; my blog is watered down, sanitized, and filtered for reasons I’ll explain later. I invite you (with her permission) to her blog which is raw, honest, and brilliant. Take a moment to read her latest post, “Seeing the Good in the Bad” and raise your own awareness on mental health. I especially love her last point which I can closely relate to:

Bipolar: Every day I am reminded by each of these pills that I have mental illnesses. It is thrown in my face as I swallow each pill that I am fucked up. I have to face the fact multiple times a day that I need these pills to survive, and it is humiliating. And I will most likely need these pills to survive for the rest of my life, which is discouraging.

Cancer: Every day I am reminded by each of the pills, scars and port that I have metastatic breast cancer. It is thrown in my face as I swallow each pill, get infused with chemotherapy, and trace my fingers over nearly two feet of scars. I have to face the fact multiple times a day that I need these pills/chemo/surgeries to survive, and it is humiliating. And I will need these pills/chemo/surgeries to survive for the rest of my life, however long or short that may be.

Pretty profound, huh? Educate yourself and KNOW YOUR BODY.

Jen

Living legendary as a mom with Stage IV breast cancer. Author of Learning to Live Legendary and What You Might Not Know: My Life as a Stage IV Cancer Patient.

  1. Jan Thom Reply

    Jen,

    Thanks for sharing the link to “Seeing the Good in the Bad.” I’ve never experienced what your friend lives with every day and I can’t imagine not being able to fully feel the ups and downs of life, to be aware that you’re not fully feeling them and that you probably never will. She really helped me understand what it must be like for someone with bipolar disorder. Thanks to both of you for sharing your private thoughts and experiences so the rest of us can understand.

    Jan

  2. dstizzle Reply

    Thank you for this Jen- for using your platform to share my story and my voice and raise awareness about mental health. I appreciate this post more than you could ever imagine.

    • Jen
      Jen Reply

      There have been many private emails thanking YOU for sharing your story. Several friends have disclosed their struggle with depression or bipolar disorder and could relate to your post. Thank you for your brave honesty. Just started reading “Daring Greatly” tonight. Xoxo

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