Pink ribbons. Running for a cure. Awareness and early detection. The current conversation around breast cancer is about all the ways in which women can fight and beat the disease—but that conversation leaves out a group of women with a particular kind of breast cancer. There’s no cure for metastatic breast cancer, or mBC, and the unique needs of women who receive this particular diagnosis are going unmet.
Author Teva Harrison is one of those women, but she’s determined to change the way we talk, or don’t talk, about mBC. “Talking about metastatic breast cancer is acknowledging that breast cancer is a disease that kills,” says Harrison. “People aren’t talking about it because I think it’s hard for people to admit that we haven’t made the type of progress we’d like to think we would have by now.”
While the process of being diagnosed with mBC is very similar to a woman who receives a regular breast cancer diagnosis, the experience differs dramatically. “With early stage breast cancer,” she explains, “you get a timeline that tells you when you’ll finish treatment. When I’m done with treatment it will be because I’ve run out of options, not because I’m cured, and the median survival for mBC is just 2-3 years. Of course, I hope to have an exceptional response to treatment and live much longer, but it really doesn’t feel like time is on my side.”
“The public has been conditioned to think of breast cancer as being very treatable. The reality is that mBC remains an incurable disease that takes the life of approximately one woman every two hours in Canada, leaving patients like me in need of meaningful advances and treatment options,” Harrison says.
Of course, developing treatments (and an eventual cure) takes time. Harrison wants to see change now. One way she’s making that happen is to start a conversation about mBC and raise awareness.
“When I was first diagnosed, a woman in my office said, ‘I’m so glad you got one of the good cancers, one that can be cured,'” she recalls. “Of course, she didn’t know that I was already metastatic. So there are a lot of misconceptions about this disease—the kinds of misconceptions that can reduce research funding. There is a community of women in Canada, like me, living day in and day out with mBC the best we know how but our stories aren’t being told. Many of us feel isolated and excluded from the greater breast cancer conversation. People don’t want to hear bad news but that’s why it was important for me to speak out. Canadians need to know there’s another side to the breast cancer story.”
We all lead busy lives, but for women with mBC, time is running out. “My eyes are open,” says Harrison. “I know the statistics. I may not have very much time left. That’s been really clarifying for me. I used to work late every night. It felt like the most important thing. My diagnosis has made me focus on what matters most to me: spending more time with my loved ones, [and] concentrating on my artistic endeavours, like writing and illustrating my book, In-Between Days… There is so much beauty in this life,” she adds. “I want to enjoy every minute I can.”
Harrison is also using her time to further the conversation about mBC. Partnering with Pfizer Canada, Rethink Breast Cancer, The Canadian Breast Cancer Network, and the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, Harrison shares the story of her diagnosis in a new video for October 13th’s Metastatic Breast Cancer (mBC) Awareness Day. The clip does two things: it makes us realize how few people know about the disease, while educating and encouraging us to talk frankly about it at the same time. Watch it, share it using the hashtag #mbctime and—most importantly—talk about it with your friends and family.
“Friends can help by educating themselves and helping raise awareness of the metastatic side of the breast cancer story,” says Harrison. “Listen when things are going well for us but more importantly, listen to us when the burden of mBC becomes overwhelming. And it does. A lot. Many women living with mBC feel isolated when they are diagnosed with this incurable disease. It can be hard to talk about it because it’s scary, but it’s time we generate awareness and step up advocacy.”
Watch Teva Harrison’s poignant video above, and be sure to pass it on.