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Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

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By Tomise Martin. Staff Writer

The National Cancer Institute estimated that more than 192,000 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. About 4.8% of those women were diagnosed with metastatic disease, according to the NCI.

Ellen Moskowitz, president of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN), highlights the unique challenges of those diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, cancer that has spread from the breast to other parts of the body.

Moskowitz was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 1992. During treatments, she participated in walks to increase awareness of the cancer and shared her personal battle with other survivors. The milestones of completing her therapy and seeing her hair regrow were personal confirmations that she had survived and would not face the disease again.

However, a diagnosis with stage I breast cancer in her second breast nine years later caused Moskowitz to start doubting her survivorship status and those survivor talks she once found encouraging. Since a recurrence in 2002 and a metastasis one year later, she no longer identifies with those who have fought and won against breast cancer but with those who live with it every day.

"I don't feel like I have survived breast cancer. The word 'survivor' is very controversial in the metastatic community," Moskowitz says. "While there are some who relate to the word, many of us do not. I live with the disease as best I can."

Having stage IV breast cancer means Moskowitz must stay on treatments for the rest of her life. However, in the back of her mind she remembers that once her treatments become ineffective she will need to seek out other therapies that may be unavailable.

"Those of us living with metastatic breast cancer live our lives from scan to scan and in constant fear. We're afraid that one scan may detect a growth and lead us on a search for a non-existent therapy," Moskowitz says. "We need research that focuses on stopping cancer before it spreads and rendering metastatic cancer cells dormant. Many in the community are unaware of our challenges or that we sometimes live for years with fear and anxiety."

Fortunately, there are organizations dedicated to helping those living with metastatic breast cancer cope with the diagnosis and to increasing awareness of their challenges. MBCN, a national independent patient-led advocacy organization, has been devoted to this group since 2004. The network helps women and men cope with the possibility of recurrence and a stage IV diagnosis through educational resources. For more details about MBCN and services in your area, visit www.mbcnetwork.org.

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