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Help Wanted: Where is Our Metastatic Breast Cancer Celebrity Spokesperson?

You know what’s weird about metastatic breast cancer? It has no celebrity spokespeople.

Well, we sort of have one. Actress Marcia Strassman, best known for playing Gabe Kaplan’s wife on “Welcome Back Kotter,” has spoken about having metastatic breast cancer. Strassman presented with bone mets in 2007. Just as a First Lady or a Miss America Pageant contestant advances a particular cause or platform, so, too, does Marcia Strassman. She encourages medical compliance–specifically Novartis pays Strassman to talk about her experience with Zometa and why it is important to get these bisphosphonate infusions every 28 days (or as one oncologist recommends).

Those who don’t have metastatic breast cancer may be more familiar with another bisphosphonate: Boniva. You’ve probably seen the commercial starring Gidget aka Sally Field.  As Consumer Reports says, “Great Spokeswoman, Misleading Ad: … [the convenience Field touts] comes at a price—it can set you back about 10 times the cost of the similar drug alendronate (the generic version of Fosamax). No wonder Boniva’s backers, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline can afford to invest in a big-name celebrity to pitch it. Interestingly, studies don’t show that Boniva is any more effective than other bisphosphonates.”

You can see why we metsers might feel a little slighted. Everyone else get Sally Field urging them to get their bone boosters. And we get….Mrs. Kotter.

Beyond Marcia Strassman, who concedes she is not “a huge celebrity,” we don’t have any nationally known people with metastatic breast cancer speaking on our behalf.

Maybe we should count our blessings.

Sheryl Crowe had a lumpectomy and 7 weeks of radiation. She says her cancer was caught in the “earliest of stages…I am a walking advertisement for early detection. ” On a national television appearance Crowe implied there’s a connection between drinking water in plastic bottles left in a car and exposed to the sun’s heat and getting breast cancer. Although Crowe didn’t specifically suggest that’s why she herself got cancer, many viewers made that assumption. But as this report notes:  Dr. Rolf Halden of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health [says] consumers face a much greater risk from potential exposure to microbial contaminants in bottled water — germs, to you and me — than from chemical ones. For that reason, most experts suggest not refilling or reusing empty bottles.

In 2012, Crowe announced she had a noncancerous brain tumor (i.e, a meningioma ). Crowe theorized her cell phone may have led to the tumor. Science writer Benjamin Radford refutes this notion: “While concern over the potential harm of cell phones is widespread, the vast majority of scientific research does not support the idea that cell phones are dangerous,”says Radford. “Repeated scientific studies have failed to find good evidence supporting the position that EMFs or cell phones damage human health.”

Crowe has shown her power to reach millions. But she doesn’t seem to be the best informed spokesperson.

In 2008, actress Christina Applegate, then 36 years old, had a double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA1 mutation. Applegate, the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, had been getting mammograms since she was 30 years old.  “My doctor said that the mammograms weren’t enough for me because of the denseness of my breasts,” Applegate told Oprah Winfrey in 2008. “He suggested that I get an MRI.”

According to this article: [Applegate] learned early detection may not come from a mammogram. Christina says she will fight for women to have access to MRIs and genetic testing, which many insurance companies won’t pay for.

This is certainly a worthy message and one that is championed at www.areyoudense.org and FORCE (“fighting heridiatry breast and ovarian cancer”).
So far, so good. But Applegate also said she was cured: “[I’m] absolutely 100 per cent clear and clean,” Applegate said on a 2008 GMA appearance. “It did not spread. They got everything out, so I’m definitely not going to die from breast cancer.”

Ooops. . . ACS’ Dr. Len Lichtenfeld noted we don’t know the specifics of  Applegate’s disease. “Breast cancer, in fact, is a life long disease,” wrote Dr. Lichtenfeld. “That’s what many women live with every day…The medical facts are that bilateral mastectomies as a treatment for breast cancer are not a cure, especially in BRCA positive women.   They are the best strategy we have to reduce the risk of another breast cancer in the opposite breast, but they don’t remove risk completely.  Even in the hands of the best surgeons, bilateral mastectomies in a BRCA positive woman who has not had breast cancer reduces the risk of a new primary breast cancer to about 10%.  That’s because even in the best surgical hands, there is still some breast tissue left behind after these procedures.”

In 2004, singer Melissa Etheridge was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Etheridge had a lumpectomy, but the surgeons also had to remove 15 lymph nodes to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread. She then went through five rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.

More magazine recently asked Etheridge what about the key to a breast cancer cure–what needs to happen?  “I have a very strong belief that this cure that we’re looking for is inside us,” Etheridge responded. “That cancer is just a symptom of our bodies being out of balance and the cure is to understand health. It’s to understand our bodies and our spirits—our souls—better. That’s the cure.”

Thank you, Melissa, don’t call us. We’ll call you…


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