Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Changing the Conversation

October 13 is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

About a week ago, I was asked to add my thoughts to the conversation about MBC Awareness to the "It's About Time MBC Awareness Campaign" website. Below is my submission. Please visit Its About Time MBC to read mine and other MBC patient's stories.
Me in October 2015 with one of my dogs, Tucker.

Recently a voice grabbed my attention. It came from my television.

“Together, we can find a cure.”

Those words wound me each time I hear them. This pithy, feel-good, cancer rhetoric is more daunting than many people realize.

It’s about time a new conversation begins. A conversation about . . . our cells.

Cellular biology is complex. Buried within our normal cells, as well as the mutated ones, are answers to the cancer conundrum that scientists continue working to unravel. Its complexity takes years to understand what is already known. It will take millions of dollars as well as an inordinate amount of time to find out what is not known. Some simple language and analogies can educate people about why drugs fail, why the development of drugs is so difficult, and why the ultimate goal of cure for any type of cancer is not so easily accomplished.

The conversation could begin like this: Inside each cell—cancerous or not--are pathways that travel to the nucleus—the brain of the cell. These pathways are like the lines representing roads on a map. The roads are numerous and allow messages to be sent all over the cell activating different parts as the messages travel. The process may begin with a receptor receiving a message. That message is carried along a certain pathway. Once the delivery of the message is completed the whole thing starts again.

You could also think of it this way: When you go to the grocery store, you probably travel the same road every time. You could drive this same route for years. Then one day, road construction causes you to seek a new route. You find it and begin traveling that route until something else blocks your way causing you to find another route or a different grocery store.

That is how cancer works. Information is carried down a pathway to the nucleus until a drug comes along inhibiting the information from reaching the nucleus. Unfortunately for cancer patients, an alternative route is found or a mutation occurs creating a new pathway to deliver the messages of growth, division, and survival. These evolved cells with no drugs developed to stop them eventually become so numerous organ function decreases and finally stops, ending life.

Cancer is complicated. Simplification of cellular biology needs to leave the circle of advanced cancer patients and enter the public arena. This will help people start talking about this aspect of cancer—the most important one—our mutinous cells and their inner workings. This needs to be a part of any cancer awareness campaign. Without it, the general public has been duped into believing a cure is close for all the types of breast cancer.

I do not want to squash hope for a cure; however, only honest conversations about the nature of cancer will move dollars into the more complicated realm of research that aims to figure out how to control cancerous diseases.

Metastatic research is time intensive and dollar deficient resulting in many dead ends, stops, and restarts. Free mammograms, comfort bags filled with goodies, and prevention studies have a place in the cancer world, but these don’t make a real impact in halting any cancer. I want money placed in the hands of researchers doing work on a cellular level. Then people in the future will be able to live longer lives with fewer side-effects from their treatment after their cancer diagnosis.

Without research people like me with metastatic breast cancer are left to paddle alone in our oceans of tears suffocated by our own lungs, poisoned by our own livers, broken by our own bones, and tortured by our own brains all because our cancerous breast cells found a new home and are killing us.

It’s about time to change the conversation for the sake of my children and yours.

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