Meet Patricia Shaheen, a woman who refuses to let others pity her just because she has been dealing with her breast cancer since 1997. Initially diagnosed with a Stage I right breast cancer, she underwent a modified radical mastectomy and axillary lymph node dissection (no radiation, chemotherapy or hormonal therapy). She was free of disease for 12 years before discovering a local-regional recurrence at her right axilla. She was given an anti-estrogen pill and local XRT and went for another 2 years with no evidence of disease (NED). In late 2011, she experienced a second relapse, this time a painless lesion at the left scapula, found on routine tests. Focal radiation was given and another 3 years went by with no progression as she was managed on only anti-estrogen oral pill therapy.
In 2014, routine tests discovered a new site of relapse at the right neck and it was treated with focal XRT and went away completely. Then in 2015, another isolated site of relapse was found in a subcarinal node in her chest by her lungs. This too responded completely to anti-estrogen therapy and focal XRT. So after FIVE focal relapses that at their time of diagnosis was the only site of disease (called oligometastasis), spanning nearly 19 years, she remains pain-free, cancer-free and is able to say that she has never had chemotherapy or pain related to her breast cancer. She has a remarkably positive attitude and is a clear example of how some cancers have become like chronic diseases where they are managed, much like diabetes or heart disease. For Ms. Shaheen, she knows that her disease will likely return one day but much like she has done in the past, she is ready to “deal with it when it happens and until then, live my life and be grateful.”