“There’s no such thing as a typical metastatic breast cancer experience.”
Some of the best people to talk to when you’re going through treatment for metastatic breast cancer are other patients. After all, they can relate to what you’re experiencing better than your friends and family. However, you have to be a little cautious not to compare your experience with other women who have metastatic breast cancer.
“There’s no such thing as a typical metastatic breast cancer experience,” says Paula Klein, hematologist and oncologist at the Dubin Breast Center of the Mount Sinai Health System. “As much as it sounds like your friend and you have the same disease, I promise you that you do not.”
Why You Shouldn’t Compare Your Breast Cancer Experience
Breast cancer has many subtypes, for starters. Each of these subtypes may require a slightly different treatment approach. Plus, breast cancer that has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body) can look very different depending on where the cancer has spread. This can affect both your symptoms and your treatment needs.
This has three major implications:
1. Your friend’s treatment advice might not be relevant to you.
Just because something is working well for them doesn’t mean it will have the same results for you. The best people to get treatment advice from is your own cancer care team. Your treatment options depend on the following:
- Subtype of breast cancer
- Location of the cancer metastasis (bone, lung, brain, liver, etc.)
- Severity of the cancer
- Your goals as a patient
- Other health issues you may have
- Treatment side effects and what you can tolerate
2. Don’t compare your breast cancer treatment success to others.
You might feel shame or guilt if you’re not seeing the treatment results you were hoping for. This may feel even worse if you see another patient responding beautifully to their treatment. Remember, their cancer and their treatment are different. Some breast cancer subtypes have more effective treatments than others. You can’t blame yourself.
3. You are not “weak” because you’re having more symptoms or side effects than others.
Different treatments have different side effect profiles. It’s normal to have different or more severe side effects if you are taking a different treatment than someone else. Even if you’re on the exact same treatment, different people react to medicines differently. It does not mean you’re “weak” or that you’re doing something wrong.
What to Do If You’re Concerned About Your Experience
It can be unsettling to find out that someone else is having a better treatment experience than you. You may blame yourself, or want to “try what they’re doing.”
Before you give in to either of these temptations, talk to your cancer care team. “You have to be careful that you do not confuse yourself with anybody else, and if ever you’re unsure, you come into the office and ask us,” says Dr. Klein. “I think sharing your concerns with the oncology team opens up avenues of communication.”
Paula Klein, MD, is a hematologist and oncologist at the Dubin Breast Center of the Mount Sinai Health System.