So October 13th, 2013 was Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Were you aware of this ? Nope, me neither. I heard barely a whisper about the date on UK radio or TV. Actually, I'm lying. Having more than just a passing interest in the subject, I'm aware that buried somewhere within the mountain of pink ribbon paraphernalia is an awareness day that doesn't sit easily with the media. It doesn't have the feel-good-triumph-over-tragedy story of its younger early-stage sister. Metastatic breast cancer day rather ambitiously aims are to inform the general public about the realities of living with an incurable but often treatable disease. Only there's a problem with the branding. How do you make something that's 'incurable' but treatable sound anything less than 'terminal' ? And terminal can only mean one thing when seen in newsprint - that short-cut rat-run to the pearly gates (or the furnace depending on how good/bad you happened to have been in your past life).
The problem with metastatic breast cancer is that even though, by virtue of the fact that you're still alive and kicking, you're showing the world that you truly are surviving, you will never get to that day when you can say that you're a survivor. As anyone who has lived from scan to scan will attest, the ok months sandwiched in between feel more like a reprieve than a remission. When I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer, I lived for the day when the treatment was over and I could get back to 'reality'. Only once I was there, I realised that this state of nirvana doesn't really exist. And once I was away from the drugs and the doctors and the hospitals and the drains, in my head I never really felt that I had truly managed to take the exit train out of Cancerland forever.
Despite the hormonal treatments, the zometa infusions, the nightly sweats which keep me awake at night and the hot flushes that make me fuzzy-headed during the day, on the outside I look like the same old person, albeit with much less hair. And because of this, sometimes it's hard to talk about my illness. I either get the head cocked to one side pity face of here's-a-woman-who-will-never-live-to-see-her-son-grow-up or better still, 'so, when are you going to get the all-clear ?'
All cancer survivors live in a constant state of limbo. We're encouraged to get on with our lives and live for the moment and other nonsense cliches, while at the same time trying desperately hard to keep keep everything as normal as possible when the future seems so uncertain. Perhaps in order to truly raise awareness we should do away with the differences between metastatic and primary breast cancer and just change the way that we view cancer in general. As Susan Love articulates in her article, 'All Cancer is Metastatic', perhaps the differences between the two types of cancer are not really that different at all.