Embarking on a New Adventure: One Woman's Courageous Battle with Metastatic Breast Cancer
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'Unfortunately, the cancer has spread...it's metastatic.'
Debbie, age 64, of Portsmouth, VA, was in shock when she heard her surgeon utter those words. Two years earlier in 2005, she had been diagnosed with an early stage breast cancer - ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Despite receiving treatment, she was told by her doctor that the disease had spread beyond her breast - it had metastasized.
'After surgery, the doctor told my husband and me that the cancer had gone to my lymph nodes and bones, and was metastatic. As soon as I heard this, there was a moment of 'okay, what is going to happen now?' I was sure I could be treated, but just the fact that it wasn't a tumor that you could take out and that it had spread through my body, I felt like I was handed a death sentence,' reflects Debbie.
While breast cancer awareness has been a highly successful women's health initiative, the disease remains a formidable public health challenge, as women still have a one-in-eight chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetime. Further, almost one in three women with early breast cancer will later develop metastatic disease, in which the cancer spreads beyond the breast to other parts of the body.
The prognosis for women with metastatic breast cancer is poor; the five-year survival rate (the percentage of people who are still alive five years after being diagnosed) is estimated at only 27 percent. Sadly, it remains an incurable condition, meaning patients will actively deal with the disease for the rest of their lives.
Up to 10 percent of women are initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and 30 percent may progress from an earlier-stage disease to this more serious form of breast cancer, as Debbie did. Once metastatic, the disease is not curable, but it is treatable; many patients continue to live for years. Treatment goals focus on prolonging life and managing symptoms, side effects of medication and quality of life. Treatment options depend on many factors, such as the features of the tumor (for example, its genetic makeup or whether it is sensitive to hormones like estrogen and progesterone), where in the body the cancer has spread, the patient's symptoms, and any previous treatments.
Debbie was shocked when first faced with this new reality, but once the initial fear faded, Debbie's determination to fight helped her become an active participant in her care. She and her healthcare team openly discussed her prognosis and treatment options. She also joined a support group that provided information and education about metastatic breast cancer treatments.
'My doctors were very supportive and honest about the experience. When the cancer spread to my liver and I heard that an IV chemotherapy was my next step, it was a big moment. I felt like it meant it was the beginning of the end. I asked them what could happen if I didn't take the drug. One of my doctors warned me that I'd only have six months to live. I looked to my husband and I thought to myself, 'He's my everything and I have to keep fighting for him.' So I told my doctor, 'Okay, I guess I better take it,'' said Debbie.
'At that point in my journey, after my cancer had progressed on multiple chemotherapies, my oncologist's recommendation was HALAVEN,' she added. 'He gave me an educational pamphlet about the drug and other information I needed. I studied up to see how others living with metastatic breast cancer were doing on the medication. I trusted my medical team 100 percent. I was ready to go.'
HALAVEN is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, and who have already received other types of anticancer medicines after the cancer has spread. Although some women lived longer and some women did not live as long, women with metastatic breast cancer (mBC) who were treated with HALAVEN in a clinical trial lived an average of 13.2 months compared with women treated with other chemotherapy or hormone therapy, who lived an average of 10.6 months. Results will vary.
'I know HALAVEN can work to give women like me more time,' remarked Debbie. 'But, I don't think about time that way. We all have a beginning and an end date; I'm most concerned with living the 'dash'. I think of my husband and family, of the warrior I've become, and of my next goal.'
To learn more about Debbie's story and to learn about HALAVEN, a treatment for adults with metastatic breast cancer who have already received other types of anticancer medicines after the cancer has spread, visit www.Halaven.com.
This is Debbie's personal experience with HALAVEN; individual results may vary. This story is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a healthcare provider. All decisions regarding patient care must be made with a healthcare provider, considering the unique characteristics of the patient. This story features a real patient sharing her experiences on treatment. These experiences are based on the patient's experiences at the time of interview. Experiences may change over time.
Who is HALAVEN (eribulin mesylate) Injection for?
HALAVEN is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, and who have already received other types of anticancer medicines after the cancer has spread.
Important Safety Information for HALAVEN®
What safety information do I need to know about HALAVEN?
HALAVEN can cause serious side effects, including
Low white blood cell count (neutropenia). This can lead to serious infections that could lead to death. Your health care provider will check your blood cell counts. Call your health care provider right away if you develop fever (temperature above 100.5°F), chills, cough, or burning or pain when you urinate, as any of these can be symptoms of infection
Numbness, tingling, or pain in your hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy). Peripheral neuropathy is common with HALAVEN and sometimes can be severe. Tell your health care provider if you have new or worsening symptoms of peripheral neuropathy
Your health care provider may delay or decrease your dose or stop treatment with HALAVEN if you have side effects
Before you receive HALAVEN, tell your health care provider about all of your medical conditions, including if you
have liver or kidney problems
have heart problems, including a problem called congenital long QT syndrome
have low potassium or low magnesium in your blood
are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. HALAVEN can harm your unborn baby. Tell your health care provider right away if you become pregnant or think you are pregnant during treatment with HALAVEN. Females who are able to become pregnant should use an effective form of birth control during treatment with HALAVEN and for at least 2 weeks after the final dose of HALAVEN and males should use an effective form of birth control when having sex with female partners who are able to become pregnant during treatment with HALAVEN and for 3½ months (14 weeks) after the final dose of HALAVEN
are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. It is not known if HALAVEN passes into your breast milk. Do not breastfeed during treatment with HALAVEN and for 2 weeks after the final dose of HALAVEN
Tell your health care provider about all the medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
What are the possible side effects of HALAVEN?
HALAVEN can cause changes in your heartbeat (called QT prolongation). This can cause irregular heartbeats. Your health care provider may do heart monitoring (electrocardiogram or ECG) or blood tests during your treatment with HALAVEN to check for heart problems.
The most common side effects of HALAVEN in adults with breast cancer include low white blood cell count (neutropenia), low red blood cell count (anemia), weakness or tiredness, hair loss (alopecia), nausea, and constipation.
Your health care provider will do blood tests before and during treatment while you are taking HALAVEN.