Living with Breast Cancer
- Deborah Blake-Ontiveros was just 37 when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She had no family history of the disease and the first doctor she went to said it was “likely a clogged milk duct.”
- Now, she shares her story to urge others to advocate for themselves.
- Metastatic breast cancer – also called “stage four” breast cancer – means that the cancer has spread, or metastasized, beyond the breasts to other parts of the body. There is technically no cure, but advancements in treatments can dramatically improve outcomes and that is something to be hopeful for.
- One major advancement that’s made recent headlines is the reclassification of some advanced breast cancers as HER2 “low” which means more people are eligible to receive certain treatments like Enhertu.
Blake-Ontiveros was just 37 when she was diagnosed with stage four, or metastatic, breast cancer in the spring of 2018.Read More
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Sadly, that doctor could not have been more wrong. Her skin dimpling, inverted nipple and the “pea-sized lump” around her right breast were all symptoms of her breast cancer. But given that her breasts had changed a lot when she breastfed her daughter, she decided to trust that medical professionals opinion.
“Due to his demeanor and the way I was being spoken to, I remember feeling ridiculous for even thinking it might be cancer,” Blake-Ontiveros wrote. “Although I didn’t feel that my concern was taken seriously, I did believe what he told me because he’s the one with a medical degree.
“I wish I’d listened to that nagging voice inside of me that signaled ‘something doesn’t seem right.’ In hindsight, I should’ve advocated for myself and asked for additional screening.”
I Wanted My Doctor To Like Me, Then He Missed My Breast Cancer
Like many cancer warriors, Blake-Ontiveros may never know what caused her breast cancer. She didn’t have a family history of the cancer and she tested negative for genetic markers that could indicate an increased risk of the disease. Regardless, she wants to share her story to educate others – as well as herself – about the cancer that has now become a part of her life.
“I now share my experiences in hopes to spread awareness of the importance of advocating for yourself,” she wrote. “It’s OK to ask for additional screenings and second opinions. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore the feeling!”
Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer
Metastatic breast cancer – also called “stage four” breast cancer – means that the cancer has spread, or metastasized, beyond the breasts to other parts of the body. It most commonly spreads to the bones, liver and lungs, but it may also spread to the brain or other organs.
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And while there is technically no cure for metastatic breast cancer, there are a wide variety of treatment options used to battle the disease including hormone therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drugs, immunotherapy and a combination of various treatments.
RELATED: Are You A Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient Curious About The Drug Enhertu? Here’s What You Need To Know
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, explained how she tries to management breast cancer when it has progressed to a later stage.
“With advanced disease, the goal of treatment is to keep you as stable as possible, slow the tumor growth and improve your quality of life,” she said.
The American Cancer Society reports that there were more than 3.8 million U.S. women with a history of breast cancer alive at the start of 2019. Some of the women were cancer-free, and others still had evidence of the disease, but they also reported that more than 150,000 breast cancer survivors were living with metastatic disease, three-fourths of whom were originally diagnosed with stage I-III. And with ongoing advancements in treatments and options out there today that can dramatically reduce symptoms, there are many reasons to be hopeful.
One major advancement that’s made recent headlines is the reclassification of some advanced breast cancers as HER2 “low.” During an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, Dr. Comen highlighted an exciting treatment for this new classification of metastatic breast cancer patients.
The Major Change That Every Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient Should Get Tested For– SurvivorNet Adviser Dr. Elizabeth Comen On ‘GMA’
“One of the most challenging types of cancer to treat is metastatic breast cancer,” Dr. Comen said. “And a new treatment, an FDA approved treatment, called Enhertu or T-DXd is being used to improve the survival of patients with a new classification of metastatic breast cancer called HER2-low metastatic breast cancer,” said Dr. Comen. “So, for anybody watching if they or their loved one has metastatic breast cancer, it’s critical that they ask their doctor, ‘Do I have HER2-low breast cancer and might this be an appropriate treatment for me?”
Living with Cancer
Life doesn’t slow down for a cancer diagnosis, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And it’s important to remember that a cancer diagnosis – even stage four – does not mean the end of your life. In fact, our experts say that prioritizing your overall wellbeing and continuing to do the things that you love can be very beneficial.
Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard, a thoracic oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, shared three things he tells his lung cancer patients about living with the disease:
- Don’t act sick – “You can’t mope around,” he said. “Do things, and in doing things, you will stay active.”
- Don’t lose weight – “Eat what you need to do to not lose weight,” he said. “I like my patients pleasantly plump.”
- Don’t be a tough guy – “When you’ve got lung cancer, you need work with your doctor to keep your medical conditions under control.”
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