When I was originally diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in July of 2012 my oncologist didn’t talk to me about life expectancy. She was realistic about the situation as she told me there was no cure, that treatment was officially classified as palliative only. At the same time she wanted to treat me aggressively, partly because I was young and partly because, aside from breast cancer, I was so healthy. Her hope was that I would respond really well to treatment and while I would not be cured, I would be lucky and beat the statistics.
I guess you could say I did that. While my oncologist didn’t discuss life expectancy, I couldn’t stay away from Dr. Google. And even some of the literature I was sent home with at the very original appointment where I got the initial diagnosis told me that 20-25% of patients diagnosed with Stage IV would make it 5 years. The internet told me median survival was 28 months.
On this day, March 13, 2017, I have officially made it to double the median of my life expectancy, 56 months. It is odd how cancer changes a person. Typically, after you hit a certain age, around 40 years I think, you don’t celebrate as many milestones. There are the big ones, 45, 50, 65, retirement whenever that is, and wedding anniversaries, but really the days aren’t celebrated like when you’re a kid and every birthday is a BIG deal.
Now, it feels like pretty much every day is a milestone, let alone my birthday, my cancerversary, and now double the median day. Although, I almost missed today so no cake. My 5th cancerversary is in July, I’ll make cake for that.
Since I was diagnosed there have been several new drugs that have become available for treatment……..Pertuzumab, TDM-1, Ibrance, Lapatinab, there may be others but those are the ones I thought of first. Unfortunately, so far with these new drugs both the median life expectancy and 5 year survival rate have not really changed. The most recent statistics are from sometime in 2016 and are non-specific with a median life of expectancy of 2 – 3 years and 5 year survival is still 20-25%. From that, maybe the median is 30 months but it seems like no one really knows.
Pertuzumab and TDM-1 are the oldest drugs, both came through the pipeline in the fall of 2012. Hopefully, part of why the median statistics haven’t really changed yet is because the more recently diagnosed patients that have been on these drugs and are doing really well and living longer and thus haven’t become a part of the statistics.
The other thing that can skew the statistics is how deaths are recorded. It is common for deaths related to cancer to actually be recorded as death from things like lung failure or liver failure without mention of cancer. Thus, unless a patient is specifically being tracked they may not make into the statistics for calculating median life expectancy. This may be why the most current median stats have the median listed as a range rather than a number.
Right now, I am very happy to not be part of the statistics. I see my oncologist on Wednesday and I will get the results of my latest CT scan. I am still cautiously optimistic but I know things can change dramatically in just a few short days.