Support For Patients With Metastatic Disease
By Stephen Ornes
Two years ago, while driving down the highway, Suzanne Hebert saw a billboard advertising breast cancer treatment at a nearby cancer center. It featured a woman and four words: I never gave up. Hebert wondered, “So the 40,000 women who died last year gave up?”
For Hebert, who has been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2004, the ad touched a nerve. In 2011, more than half a million Americans died of cancer, with about 90 percent of those deaths due to metastases. All cancers can metastasize, with the lungs and liver being the most common organs to which cancer spreads.
Hebert says that, like the billboard, the words commonly used to talk about cancer don’t always resonate with patients who have metastatic disease. For instance: “You think of a ‘survivor’ as someone who has gone through something like a plane crash, where the event is over,” she says. But for people with metastatic cancer, “there is no end point. We’re on treatment forever. We’re incurable, and our disease is not going to go away.”
Communities and support services that serve patients with metastatic cancer are growing. Case in point: Eight years ago, Jane Soyer and Nina Schulman launched the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, for which Hebert is now the vice president. “Those of us with metastatic disease were the unheard voices in the cancer community,” Schulman wrote in 2007, a year before she died of breast cancer. Today, the organization has 2,000 members worldwide, helping them to act as their own advocates and raising awareness of the needs of metastatic breast cancer patients.
And breast cancer patients aren’t the only ones who can find help with their specific needs as they cope with metastatic cancer. Individuals with all types of metastatic disease can often find support from both local and national organizations. Here are a few places to look:
• Major cancer centers. These large institutions frequently host support groups aimed at specific patients, including those with metastatic disease. •
CancerCare. This national nonprofit offers educational workshops and support groups—by telephone, in person and online—for people with metastatic disease.
Learn more at www.cancercare.org
• Hospitals and local health centers. Social workers or health professionals often lead support groups at regional centers.