Metastatic Breast Cancer thrivers ask for more research funding

Less than 10% of breast cancer funding supports research for stage four patients.
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 9:52 PM CST
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DIXON, Ill. (WIFR) - Nearly 240,000 women and 2,100 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of those people, 6-10% are diagnosed with Metastatic or stage four breast cancer (MBC). Another 30% are diagnosed with stage one, two or three, before the disease spreads. Now, people with MBC work to secure more funding for research to gain more time on earth.

“I will eventually die from my cancer or from the treatments that I’m on for cancer.”

Seven years ago, Cathy Dixon was diagnosed with cancer. “My first diagnosis was stage two breast cancer.”

Treatment included a double mastectomy and four rounds of chemotherapy.

“I was told, at that time, I was cancer free,” Cathy says. “So, I did the bald pictures in the pink blouse and all that.”

About a year and a half later, Cathy underwent surgery to fix a non-cancerous problem with one of her ovaries.

“When I was done with that surgery, my doctor told me that they tested all of my female organs and there was no cancer. I was very excited about that,” said Cathy. “Then, his posture and his voice changed, and he leaned over, and he said I saw something on your liver.”

That sent Cathy back to Oncology, where doctors diagnosed her with stage four, Metastatic Breast Cancer.

“Metastatic Breast Cancer is basically uncontrolled cell growth that starts in the breast and then spreads distantly to other parts of the body, so outside of the breast where it originated,” said Dr. Alyssa Ceilesh, a hematologist oncologist OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center.

Stages one, two and three of breast cancer are curable.

“So, with surgery, with sometimes radiation, and sometimes chemo and hormone therapy. People should be cured of that disease,” Dr. Ceilesh said. “It should be something they go through treatment and move on with the rest of their lives.”

Metastatic breast cancer is treatable, but there is no cure.

“So with metastatic breast cancer, even though we have all these tools available, we still haven’t’ been able to cure this disease,” Ceilesh. “So, unfortunately this is something people with live for the rest of their lives.”

“The cancer that I had, had just moved. Now that it’s in a new location, it becomes a different animal,” said Cathy. “It’s not funded by the pink ribbon research.”

According to The Lancet Oncology, and MetaVivor, less than 10% of funding for breast cancer research supports metastatic or stage four, breast cancer. Researchers with MetaVivor support the 30 for 30 goal. Because 30% of patients are eventually diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, 30% of donations should be dedicated to MBC research.

“The pink ribbon, that money doesn’t go to people like me.”

Cathy joined an online support group to connect with others just like her, who must fight for another day.

“I can’t talk to my friends and family about it. I would come off very bitter,” said Cathy.

For now, the dance teacher’s cancer is stable. It’s not growing. She says she takes her diagnosis day-by-day, getting treatments she’ll need for the rest of her life.

“We typically utilize medications that will treat the entire body versus for more early stage or localized breast cancer, where we incorporate more radiation therapy and surgery and things that will locally treat disease,” said Dr. Ceilesh.

“I take a cocktail of pills in the morning, a pill at night and then shots once a month,” said Cathy. “That is keeping me alive.”

In the beginning, doctors told Cathy her prognosis was three to five years. Six years later, she’s thriving.

According to Cathy, that’s what people with MBC call themselves. She urges others to donate to research, in the hopes it could lead to improved medication. That could give Cathy more time with family and friends.

Cathy says calling Metastatic Breast Cancer by its proper name could make all the difference.

“For example, Suzanne Summers, in every single article I read, they called it breast cancer or whole-body cancer―the wrong terms. If we can call it the right terms, metastatic cancer, she struggled with metastatic breast cancer for her whole life, people would know.”