Doctors and patients offer hope for women with metastatic breast cancer

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and October 13 is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. This day focuses on the less common, but more deadly form of the disease.

Metastatic breast cancer is when the cancer spreads, typically to the liver, lungs, bones or brain.
Most women are diagnosed months or years after completing breast cancer treatment. Only about 6% are diagnosed with it first. Angela Ferrell of Moyock is one of them.

“I woke up one morning and the right side of my right breast was completely hard; I had no idea why, I just knew that it wasn’t a good thing,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell’s cancer is aggressive. Often missed on mammograms, it lies across her breast, unlike a typical lump.

She recalled the day she was diagnosed in 2018. “He (doctor) came in and he told me it was metastatic breast cancer and I also had bone cancer.”

Jeanette Demko was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. It metastasized years later. “I don’t even want to know where it is,” the 86 year old told us.

These women are living proof that metastatic breast cancer is no longer an automatic death sentence.

“There is hope,” Dr. Cristina Alencar said.

Dr. Alencar, an Oncologist with Virginia Oncology Associates, sees patients at the new Priority Toyota Cancer Center at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center. She said for every ten patients she sees, about two or three have metastatic disease. “More women are living longer with good quality of life,” she said.

According to Susan G. Komen, about one-third of women live at least five years after diagnosis and some live longer depending on what type of cancer it is and what treatments are available.

Dr. Alencar said bone cancer seems to be the easiest to treat, while treatment is more difficult when cancer attacks an organ. “If we don’t know yet how to treat that type or the best way to treat we can enroll patients in clinical trials.” She said Virginia Oncology Associates currently has patients enrolled in nearly a dozen breast cancer trials.

Angela’s cancer is treated with medication. “They told me I would deal with that for the rest of my life, but I have a rest of my life,” she told WAVY.

Playtime with her grandchild is now a priority for Angela. Her painful bone cancer sometimes makes it difficult to walk, but she doesn’t complain.

Jeanette is also focused on living her best life. She stays active with the Bra-Ha-Ha and exercises everyday.

“I don’t like to walk outside; I like to walk around Target,” she laughed.

She’s on her third kind of chemotherapy. She is keeping the faith and remaining fearless which, when it comes to breast cancer, is just what the doctor ordered.

Dr. Alencar tells women “Don’t be afraid!” of mammograms because the earlier cancer is found the better your chances, and if it is metastatic there is hope in new research and medications.


National Breast Cancer Foundation: What is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Susan G. Komen: Treatments for Metastatic Breast Cancer

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