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Metastatic breast cancer calls for innovative support systems
By Dani Wilson

Metastatic breast cancer (also called Stage 4) is the most advanced stage of the disease and means that the cancer has spread to other organs in the body. Although it is considered incurable, treatment continues because excellent care and support can extend lives by several years. Once a person is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the goal of their treatment plan changes from eradicating the cancer to prolonging the life of the patient in the most comfortable manner. Likewise, supportive services must change.

Most support groups focus on helping people cope during their treatment and then move beyond cancer, therefore those who will be in treatment for the rest of their lives can feel isolated and unrelatable. They are often wary of sharing their story in a room full of people working towards remission.

People with metastatic breast cancer may not look like they have cancer, but it remains at the forefront of their minds. They know that treatment will extend their lives, but they also know they will eventually die from the disease. They may experience daily pain, depression, anxiety, and various side effects from the long-term use of prescribed medications. These issues are very different from those with early stage breast cancer, and that is why support groups specifically for people with metastatic breast cancer are so important.

Targeted support groups make an enormous difference in the ability to cope and find understanding, camaraderie, and solace. They connect people facing similar decisions, struggles, and fears. They have been shown to improve the mental wellbeing and quality of life for people with metastatic breast cancer, in part by allowing participants a safe place to discuss the process of dying and to improve communication with family members.

Over 150,000 people in the United States are living with metastatic breast cancer, and that number is growing (National Cancer Institute, 2017). Supportive services specifically designed for their needs must grow as well.

Dani Wilson is the director of strategic advancement at Our Clubhouse.

For more information on supportive services for people with metastatic breast cancer, please contact Our Clubhouse at (412) 338-1919, dwilson@ourclubhouse.org, or www.ourclubhouse.org.

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