The other 70 ish percent

By | Mon November 30, 2015

It occurs to me that there is a lot of dialogue about how approximately 20-30% of early stage breast cancers progress to metastatic disease. I ran into a bit of conflict in a discussion group the other day because I asked the organization to do some more research around the myth of 30%. With that I’m referring to how people use the 30% number as if it were a known fact, when we currently don’t have any accurate statistics to support it as fact. I’ve blogged about the dangers of throwing out scare tactic statistics on those of us living with the aftermath of treatment.

This 30% is used to rebuff the message that “early detection saves lives”. Unfortunately, for 20-30% of women, early detection makes no difference. For them, the disease will progress to metastatic disease regardless of what they do. However, what about the other 70ish percent? Does early detection make a difference for them?

The point of this post is to talk a little bit about what it means to hope to be in that 70%. I hope that early detection does make a difference. As I learn to live with the aftermath of very invasive and traumatic breast cancer treatments, I am left reflecting – I am left hoping – the only way that I can personally consolidate the assaults on my body is to accept that had I done nothing, I would have died. So, for me, early detection did save my life (at least that is necessarily my current view). Early detection wasn’t a wasted effort.

So, maybe early detection doesn’t save all lives, but to say it saves none would again be unfair to those who have survived breast cancer treatment. It would be unfair to those of us who live through the side affects and aftermath of treatment.  We need to believe that acting quickly to treat our not-yet-metastatic breast cancer was the right thing. We need to be believe that early detection helped reduce the severity of our treatments and the spread of our disease.

I won’t be able to tell you that early detection saved my life until I die; however, I will tell you that I believe that I caught my breast cancer early. I believe that early detection meant that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes before I sought treatment. It reduced the impact of my treatments (I didn’t need radiation), although my treatments were pretty extreme (chemo and bilateral mastectomy) – and now hormone therapy (which is a misnomer as it involves the blocking of hormones rather than providing hormones). For me, I have to believe that early detection saved my life, cause otherwise, all the hell of treatment was for nothing, and I simply cannot believe that.

So, for 20-30% of women, early detection will make no difference. For the rest of us, it will save our lives.

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