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
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT