The smile, the strategically positioned hat stood out in the black and white photo. My eyes roamed the page then focused on the title, Breast Cancer chutes, ladders. With the newspaper comfortably placed on my lap I delved into the story.
Laurie Becklund, a former staff writer for the LA Times, shared her cancer journey. Her words brought me face-to-face with a segment of our family I knew so little about. I have been reluctant to learn more about those journeying with this disease. I chose ignorance and avoidance out of fear. Could this be me one day? I was mesmerized by her words steeped in strength, frustration, and life.
I became a member of the Breast Cancer family in 2007 with a diagnosis of Stage 1. As a man with breast cancer I struggled to find my place within this vast community. A recurrence in 2010 at Stage 1 cemented my presence and a connection with The Male Breast Cancer Coalition guided me from a supporter to a survivor and advocate.
Laurie’s message pierced my shield of fear and drew me deeper into this journey anchoring my emotions. Her spirit became a part of me and I found myself asking, why? How? My fear was no longer desperately hanging on, no longer present to obstruct an acknowledgement of this reality. Here this courageous woman was revealing how and why she was dying from Metastatic Breast Cancer.
Astonished, I kept rereading her journey, diagnosed Stage 1 in 1996, told of the small chance of a recurrence at her 5 year mark, and then 13 years after her initial diagnosis told she had Stage IV cancer now in her bones, liver, lungs, and brain. Silently taking it in, I thought of friends on a similar path.
Deep in contemplation a sense of urgency emerged. Questions flooded my mind. How can this be? Why is this tolerated? Why have we not moved on from Awareness Campaigns and confront this monster called Metastatic? This can happen to any of us. What research is being done? What therapies are out there to discover, refine, and share?
I learned through Laurie that an estimated 40,000 women and men die annually while another quarter of a million Americans are waiting in the wings. No one is required to report a metastatic diagnosis. Again, why? I felt stunned, unsettled that I, a member of the Breast Cancer Family was so ill informed of Stage IV. I grappled with trying to understand, to acknowledge cancer’s ability to hide and then resurface years later with a vengeance, always possessing an appetite to conquer more.
My questions paralleled ones held about male breast cancer. With so little information and data, where are we with cancer? Where are we with Stage IV? 40,000 kept echoing inside my head. This amount of loss gripped my whole being. We do not blink an eye with the billions spent on defense and weapons. We live with laws making our cars, roads, buildings, and environment safer. Action taken because of mounting deaths. Yet here in this corner of our community we allow, overlook, and conveniently ignore the rising numbers of those facing and dying from this disease. Losses leaving families without a parent, son, daughter, brother, sister, wife, husband, and partner. We blindly accept the empty space at their table, the missing smile in a photo, the emptiness of too many hearts. Why?
Laurie Becklund’s story awakened a part of me held prisoner by fear. Her words of life stirred my inner spirit. A few months following this story I was to hear those words as I became a member of the Metastatic Breast Cancer family. Although my routine blood work was great, it was a persistent cough that eventually gave cancer’s undetected presence away. I learned that my cancer had slowly and quietly moved to my chest cavity and lungs. Laurie’s words, her frustrations, fears, and disbelief were now mine. They were now my reality.
I now see what fear had blinded me to; the inept and dismal funding for research, for discovering therapies, for providing answers to all who face the metastatic path. Now, with more resolve I join the thousands of others who are asking, why? Our voices are growing stronger, louder, and our demands for answers ring out.
We need and deserve to know the whys and hows of this disease. We possess the ability to not only discover the causes that welcome metastasis of cancer, but its cure. We need and deserve to know and share how people are living in the face of this disease by collecting data on diagnoses which will aid this quest for a cure today. Too many are dying.
We must no longer accept the empty places at our tables, the missing smiles in our photos, the lost loves of family members and friends. We must not ignore Stage IV.