I have a dirty little secret — and the start of something special — to share with you today. And if you know a woman who has EVER been diagnosed with breast cancer, I hope you’ll read this through.
That photo (circa 1994?) is me and my lifelong sister-friend Kelly, who’s been gone from this earth for almost eight months now. Another senseless casualty of MBC — metastatic breast cancer. Kelly was a gorgeous, smart, funny, quirky mom, wife, mathematician, artist, nature lover, and friend to everyone she met. I still catch myself grabbing my phone to text her — to share a news story about Lizzo, to tell her about my latest scan, to gossip about the upcoming Bachelor season. Sometimes I get all the way to typing her name into my phone and then feel my heart fall into my stomach when I see our texts don’t go past February, when the cancer took over and she slipped through our fingers.
Exactly a year ago, Kelly was posing for pictures with her family under the 35W bridge in Minneapolis — lit up in pink, green and teal to honor National MBC Awareness Day. She was hoping she still had plenty of time to raise her boys, travel and inspire others to learn more about MBC. She was full of hope, often reminding me that stats and doctors can be wrong. But in the end, they didn’t have enough treatment options or research to keep her here for long.
MBC is breast cancer’s dirty little secret — and it’s why tonight, that bridge (and structures across the US) will be lit up again: to try to alert people about the monster that lurks behind all the pink ribbons you see touting breast cancer awareness.
Kelly and I were both diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. Hers was MBC (also known as “mets” or Stage 4) from the start, meaning that what started as breast cancer had already spread to other places in her body before they found it. When it spreads somewhere like your brain or bones, it doesn’t become brain or bone cancer; it is still breast cancer.
Advances in treatment options and huge publicity pushes have led most people to believe breast cancer is now easily curable and rarely fatal. But the truth is MBC haunts every single woman who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. According to Metavivor, the leading MBC advocacy organization, 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Six to ten percent of these diagnoses are metastatic (like Kelly’s) and another 30% of breast cancer patients will develop metastatic breast cancer.
Yep. You read that right. Every year, thousands of breast cancer survivors who originally “caught it early,” suddenly have it recur in other places in the body. Sometimes months after treatment, sometimes decades later. Whenever you hear of people dying from breast cancer (including celebrities like Cokie Roberts and Kelly Preston), it ALWAYS means they had MBC. And MBC is ALWAYS terminal. And yet less than five percent of funds raised for breast cancer research actually go towards figuring out how to treat MBC. Kelly was the math whiz, but even I know those numbers make no sense.
Here’s another number that boggles the mind. While pink ribbon promotions and survivor celebrations make it seem like we’ve got breast cancer under control, breast cancer mortality rates have increased by 14% since 2008. Ugh. Yes, we’ve made great strides in early detection (get your mammograms, gals!) and more women are reaching the five year mark after initial diagnosis. But with 30% of breast cancer survivors developing MBC, the lack of knowledge about how to fight it is mind blowing to me.
This was something Kelly and I talked about a lot, given her MBC status and my diagnosis with the most aggressive form of breast cancer (triple negative). There was so much we hadn’t known about breast cancer until it swooped into our lives, too little info out there about facing your own mortality, and such a need for helping patients & the people who love them to navigate these crucial topics.
Kelly had an idea a year ago on how to do this, but life — and death — got in the way. Until now. Tomorrow, I’ll be announcing a really special project that I honestly feel like we’re working on together, with me on one side of the veil and her on the other. I hope you’ll come back to the blog, or check out social media, to find out what we have up our sleeves.
In the meantime, if you’re thinking about donating to breast cancer causes during this month of awareness campaigns, PLEASE send your money to Metavivor to help them advance research into MBC. There are so many women who should still be here, and so many others praying new interventions will arrive while there’s still time.