Beth Caldwell is not just fighting for a cure for breast cancer; she’s literally dying for one.
Beth was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer—meaning the disease has spread beyond her breasts and lymph nodes—in 2014. Her cancer has spread to her brain, liver, lungs, and bones. Despite the fact that she’s been through chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy, none of these will change the fact that her condition is terminal. Three years is the median survival rate for stage IV metastatic breast cancer, a number that hasn’t changed much in 20 years.
Many people believe every case of breast cancer is curable if it’s caught in time, and some even go so far as to blame the patient for not getting diagnosed and treated early enough. But metastatic breast cancer, or MBC, is not the patients’ fault. Like Beth, many are diagnosed at a young age and quickly learn that they can only treat – never cure – the cancer. Worse, as the cancer progresses, treatments become less effective and the patient continually needs to switch to new treatments, for as long as options are available. Eventually, MBC wins – claiming upwards of 110 lives each day.
In the last 12 years, the number of patients with metastatic breast cancer has increased by about a third. 5-10 percent of breast cancer patients are terminal upon diagnosis, and 20 to 30 percent of early-stage patients will later see their cancer metastasize and become fatal as well. Roughly 1 in 22 breast cancer survivors will at some point develop metastatic breast cancer.
Yet only about seven percent of breast cancer funding goes toward research for metastatic cancer, for which there is no cure. On top of that, metastatic patients often do not qualify for clinical trials and experimental treatments. By the time the treatments covered by insurance have failed them, the treatments cleared for clinical trials are the only chance these women have left.
“It takes away a lot of fear in your life, because you don’t have anything left to lose,” Beth says, “because you’re going to lose your life.”
Beth and her husband, J., have been married for 15 years, and they have two amazing children. Now her cancer has taken away much of her ability to care for her family. She wants everyone to realize that metastatic breast cancer is not the frilly pink survivable disease that everyone wants it to be. Pink is not a cure. Funding and research are the only real keys to finding a cure and preventing tens of thousands of deaths each year.
“There’s no amount of rest that makes you feel less tired,” Beth says. And yet, she still felt compelled to fight, to do something about the injustice of the the severe lack of funding and the too-slow progress toward a cure.
So in 2015, she started Metup, an organization dedicated to taking direct and concrete actions, such as organizing protests, talking to researchers, and meeting with government and health officials, to move the world toward more funding and a cure for metastatic breast cancer. They even organize “die-ins” to honor those who lose their lives every day to metastatic breast cancer and to raise awareness for the currently incurable disease. (You can learn more about attending one on their Facebook page.)
Watch local station Q13’s interview with Beth.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?