Skip to main content

Cate Edwards: My mom's brave struggle with breast cancer

By Cate Edwards, Special to CNN
October 9, 2013 -- Updated 1032 GMT (1832 HKT)
Cate Edwards with her mother, Elizabeth.
Cate Edwards with her mother, Elizabeth.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; nearly 300,000 women will be diagnosed
  • Cate Edwards: 20 to 30% of all breast cancer cases will become metastatic
  • She says her mother, who died from breast cancer, lived bravely while fighting cancer
  • Edwards: I ask all of you to join me in an effort to support those living with breast cancer

Editor's note: Cate Edwards is an ambassador for Count Us, Know Us, Join Us, an organization that raises awareness for those living with advanced breast cancer, their caregivers and supporters.

(CNN) -- This year, nearly 300,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are blessed that for 31 days each year, a global community joins together to support survival, find new treatments and develop a cure.

While early stage breast cancer survival rates remain high -- with many women and men going on to live long, healthy lives -- there is no cure for advanced breast cancer. Advanced breast cancer -- Stage III and IV (metastatic) -- is a chronic disease for which there will be no remission or survival.

Many of us don't realize that 20% to 30% of all breast cancer cases will become metastatic. I know this personally because I experienced it with my mom, Elizabeth, when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2007.

Cate Edwards
Cate Edwards

My mother was warm, funny and smart. In her response to living with advanced breast cancer, her most striking quality was her extraordinary strength. When she was first diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in 2004, she had hope and determination that we would fight the cancer and win. And we did, for a short time, at least.

When it returned as metastatic disease during the start of the 2008 presidential campaign, our family felt disappointment and shock, but my mom's hope remained intact. Even though she knew the disease was not cureable, she was inspired to make sure her remaining time on Earth had meaning. She relished making each and every day count for herself and for the people she loved. One of her goals, and mine, was that her positive days would outnumber the negative ones. And we certainly accomplished that goal.

Living with hope, however, requires a great deal of effort for those who are confronted with this disease. Advanced breast cancer is different than early stage breast cancer because the treatment path is much more winding.

Telling your kids about cancer
2011: Routine lowers breast cancer risk
Mammograms: When should women start?

With early stage breast cancer, we knew that there was a treatment path and only one objective -- we wanted the cancer gone. We could set our lives aside briefly and threw everything we had at the disease. My mom was invested in the best treatment, no matter how aggressive; and as her daughter, I was invested in her survival regardless of the short-term cost to us.

Advanced breast cancer was a very different experience. This time my mom's treatment path seemed more daunting and there was no clear timeline to guide us; the cancer would be with us for the remainder of her life. Unlike with early stage breast cancer, we needed to make peace with that fact. Instead of putting life off, my mom did the opposite. She lived with purpose and created meaningful moments, not knowing how many days we would have left.

Time is actually a bit of a paradox for people living with advanced cancer and for those who support them.

On the one hand, we are grateful for time and want nothing but more of it. On the other hand, that very uncertainty about how much time is left can leave patients and their loved ones reeling with anxiety.

For example, if my mom had a headache or back pain, our imaginations could run wild. "Was this the sign of a tumor progression?" "Did this mean our time was drawing near?" This would remain an underlying fear until her next scan, when (as my mom would say), we hoped she didn't "light up like a Christmas tree." But despite this reality of advanced breast cancer, or perhaps because of it, we embraced each day we had together.

The value of that embrace, even if it was just being there, together, was one of the most important lessons I learned from advanced breast cancer. I wasn't living in the same state with my mom during her years with advanced breast cancer, but we talked often by phone and she always knew I was there for her. And she was there for me too, always telling me, "don't forget about yourself."

She recognized the support I was giving her. But as my mother, she also wanted to continue giving me love and support and encouragement to keep following my dreams. As her daughter, at times as her caregiver, I never felt like there was quite enough I could do. But for both of us, the simple act of being together was what mattered.

Though my mom passed away nearly three years ago, I am still a part of a very important community. Today, I want to raise awareness about the unique challenges that face those living with advanced breast cancer. And I do mean living. Many of these women are caring for small children, still working and planning for future life events like weddings and grandchildren. Their focus, like my mom's, is making each day count.

That is why advanced breast cancer needs not only dollars to help fuel research advances, but solid support from all of us -- family, friends, co-workers or anyone touched by the disease. And that is why I've joined the Count Us, Know Us, Join Us program to help amplify the voice for the advanced breast cancer community. I'm asking everyone to join in with me and support a community that so desperately needs a voice.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cate Edwards.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT