The NFL will expand its October awareness efforts in 2017. According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the initiative will still be called “A Crucial Catch,” but teams now have a say in the cause they’ll champion for about 18 percent of their schedule. “They can still choose breast cancer, or another detectable, screenable cancer such as prostate or colorectal cancer—or one to which a player or coach has a personal tie,” writes King. ” Teams can also support more than one cancer cause per season, and they can change their choice(s) from one season to the next.”
I think this is a sensible change–all cancers are deserving of our notice and support. I do think there may be some backlash on the “detectable and screenable” clause. Some of the most devastating cancers, such as pancreatic and ovarian, have no early detection–there are no tests that will help you “catch it early.”
As Sid Mukherjee noted in the Emperor of All Maladies, the progress made in breast cancer vs. that of pancreatic cancer is pretty depressing. The prognosis for metastatic pancreatic cancer hasn’t changed more than a few months over the past 2,500 years.
I wish more people knew that. If only there was a was national platform for sharing such vital information.
And, as much as I appreciate the attention the NFL has brought to breast cancer, the “Crucial Catch” moniker makes no allowance for those whom early detection didn’t help. Most of the estimated 155,000 US people currently living with metastatic breast cancer were treated for early-stage breast cancer.
Despite the “Crucial Catch,” about 20 to 30 percent of these patients experienced a metastatic breast cancer recurrence. Many people are surprised to find out we don’t actually have a cure for breast cancer. Until a person dies of something else, he or she can never be sure their cancer won’t come back–this can happen a few months or even many years later and we don’t know why.
Metastasis occurs when cancerous cells travel to a vital organ and that is what threatens life. MBC or Stage IV breast cancer means the cancer has spread beyond the breast (typically to bone, liver, lungs or brain or some combination therein) and is no longer curable. Treatment is life long–median survival is 2.5 to 3 years. Maybe that doesn’t make for witty sideline banter or an exciting halftime show, but people should know that while early detection is important and does help some people, it doesn’t help everyone and it offers no guarantees.
Many NFL stars have lost loved ones to metastatic breast cancer: Larry Fitzgerald, DeAngelo Williams and Brian Griese are just a few. In DeAngelo Williams’ case, he never knew until long after the fact that his mom had metastatic breast cancer. Many, many people have never heard the word “metastatic,” it’s a hospital word, not something we use in day-to-day conversation.
If only there were a national platform to help people understand breast cancer is not one disease as well as the difference between early and Stage IV breast cancer and the risk for metastatic recurrence.
Because breast cancer is detectable and screenable, it is eligible for the NFL’s Crucial Catch initiative. I’d like to suggest that the New York Jets embrace Metastatic Breast Cancer as its featured cause. (I am a board member for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network and will be happy to assist! Send me my t-shirt and I will be there!)
Here are 11 reasons why Stage IV breast cancer is a natural pairing with the New York Jets:
- J-E-T-S Cheer is Easily Modified to M-E-T-S. Patients with metastatic breast cancer use “mets” for short. The Jets could save thousands of dollars in printing costs by simply changing the “J” to “M”.
- Few Know Who We Are Either. Can you name a Jets player off the top of your head? Loyal fans probably can, but the rest of us will have to think hard. Now name a celebrity with metastatic breast cancer. Most people will think of people with early-stage disease: Sheryl Crowe, Melissa Etheridge and so on. These women had the curable form of the disease–our reality is a lot different. (Shannen Doherty hasn’t stated what stage cancer she has–some reports have indicated she has Stage 3 breast cancer. Stage 3 breast cancer would have a higher risk of recurrence, but this is not metastatic disease.) So Jets players–we know what it is like when everyone knows who Tom Brady or Dak Prescott is but have no clue who you are, let alone that you exist at all.
- We Didn’t See This Coming. Matt Forte, the former Chicago Bear, is a great athlete and an even better human being. Although he is well compensated, what did he ever do to deserve joining the hapless Jets? Same thing with Stage IV breast cancer–one week we were healthy people working, raising families, and yes, going to football games. And then WHAM! We found out we have an incurable disease–but we did nothing wrong! We did NOT bring this upon ourselves.
- Support for Metastatic Breast Cancer is Pretty Bad, Too. Tickets for the Jets-Colts Monday Night Football contest were going for $5 a pop. Funding for metastatic breast cancer is pretty anemic, too. MBC-focused research made up only 7% of the $15-billion invested in breast cancer research from 2000 to 2013 by government and nonprofit funders in North America and the United Kingdom. Remember: No one dies from breast cancer that remains in the breast. Stage IV breast cancer is responsible for 90 percent of the morbidity and mortality from the disease, yet gets less than 7% of the billions in research funds. Are you kidding me? We feel your pain, Jets.
- We Can Help Them Fill Seats…Sort of. MetLife Stadium has a capacity of 82,566. These days it must be more than half empty. Note that every year, 40,000 US people die from metastatic breast cancer. As long as no one will be sitting in at least 40,000 seats for a Jets game, why not ask the estimated 155,000 US people currently living with the disease to consider sponsoring a seat for $5? For $5 they could put the name of a loved one they have lost–or even their own name–on a placard to be displayed on the seat. I would totally do that. It’s a win-win for all!
- We Can Compare Notes on MRIs and Other Imaging Tests. When you have Stage IV breast cancer, your oncologist determines if your current treatment is working by sending you for scans, usually every 3 months. Typically this involves a bone, CT and PET scan; MRIs are also used. Scans are immensely anxiety provoking–and in the case of MRIs, potentially claustrophobia inducing. But when you have these things every 90 days, you pick up a few pro tips. We are happy to share our insights.
- We Rely on Our Team. There’s no “i” in team and no “i” in cancer, either. (Although if you really want to get technical, there is a “me” in metastatic breast cancer and also an “i”.) But just like the Jets, no matter how bad things get, we are counting on our team of family, friends, nurses, oncologists, specialists and support staff. Huddle up!
- We Know What It’s Like to Get Punched in the Face. Although we literally haven’t gotten socked in the jaw like Geno Smith, we know what is like to have an incredible series of ups and downs. One minute you are riding high with your future endlessly unfurling before you and the next you are knocked off your feet and dealing with ongoing uncertainties. And, at times, we’d like to punch a few people ourselves!
- There is No Off Season. In the modern NFL, players must train year-round. Similarly, when you have Stage IV breast cancer, treatment is for life. When you have metastatic breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is every month.
- Not Much Has Changed for Us in the Past 20 Years Either. It’s actually been almost 40 years since the Jets won a Super Bowl. But the yearly number of deaths from breast cancer has remained essentially unchanged for the past 20 years. We’re finding more cancer, we’re just not curing more of it.
- We Are All Lottery Hopefuls. I am sure the Jets hope if they stick around long enough, better coaches and players will materialize. That is also our great hope with Stage IV breast cancer–if only we can get more time from our current treatments, maybe some research break throughs will happen. Dr. Don Dizon call this P.R.O.: We try to be Pragmatic, Realistic and Optimistic. Hang in there, Jets!
–Katherine O’Brien, living with Stage IV breast cancer since 2009