While planning activities for breast cancer awareness month at COTA, Helena Yelovich who works on our medical team, made an impassioned request: “Don’t Ignore Stage 4”
Helena’s sister Sophie is battling metastatic, or stage 4 breast cancer. Despite accounting for 6-10% of breast cancer diagnoses each year, metastatic breast cancer (MBC) accounts for a very small fraction of breast cancer research and funding. By sharing her story, Helena hopes to raise awareness and bring much needed public attention to the journey of MBC patients. Here is Helena’s cancer story:
Part one actually starts after I was already working at COTA for some time. In late November 2017, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38. When the results of her initial workup came in, the cancer had already spread to her bones, liver, and lungs. She powered through TPH chemotherapy loaded up on steroids and supportive meds because she was hypersensitive to the Taxol and had fairly severe reactions to each dose.
After four cycles of chemo, we were all hopeful when she went in for her scans, only to find out the tumor had doubled in size, and was now 12cm. The liver mets were bigger and there were new bone mets. She switched to a new chemotherapy regimen and after maxing out her lifetime dose of Adriamycin she finally had a response - her lungs were clear, liver mets smaller, bone mets stable, and the tumor was dramatically decreased in size - and my family collectively breathed a sigh of relief.
The following week however, she went for a brain MRI which showed 14 lesions. Fortunately, these were all very small and she was able to be treated quickly with radiation. After this, she had surgery to remove her ovaries and she has continued on hormonal and chemotherapy. In general, her cancer has been aggressive and this time last year, I was (super) pregnant and after her oncologist burst into tears at a follow up visit because she had bad news yet again, we expected the worst, and I began to acknowledge the possibility that she might not ever meet her niece.
The year has been full of ups and downs and in between multiple progressions, my family is very thankful for the small wins - the brain and lung mets have not returned, the side effects from her current regimen have been more manageable - and I am especially thankful she was able to visit New York in the fall to meet her niece. We even had a joint 40th and 1st birthday party for the two of them since their birthdays are only a few days apart.
Part two of this story is that during her workup, my sister was found to have a Chek2 mutation, and despite no (known) family history of breast cancer, my other sisters and I have all gone for genetic counseling and two of us (including myself) have tested positive for a germline mutation. Because of her diagnosis we know to get high-risk screenings which we never would have otherwise and in this respect, my sister's cancer story has potentially prevented my own.
If you would like to learn more about metastatic breast cancer, METAvivor is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of advanced breast cancer, research, and patient support. METAvivor is dedicated to the fight of women and men living with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.