Every 13 minutes, someone in the U.S. loses their life to breast cancer. That’s 115 families every day that loses a mom or dad or daughter. Countless moments big and small, that shape us, guide us – all lost. That’s simply unacceptable. Susan G. Komen is working to create a future where no one loses someone they love from breast cancer. That’s why Komen has invested more than $210 million in metastatic breast cancer research, including more than 500 research grants and more than 50 clinical trials. Joining us today to discuss metastatic breast cancer, and his own personal journey is Leslie Mullins…..
Adam (00:00): Help is needed now more than ever, Susan G Komen established the Komen COVID-19 action fund to support urgent needs among our breast cancer community today. Whether it’s providing answers and counsel for those who can’t see a doctor in-person to those that need financial or treatment assistance, visit coronavirus.Komen.Org and donate today.
Adam (00:20): Support for real pink comes from Genentech, a member of the Roche group who pursues groundbreaking science to discover and develop medicines for people with breast cancer. Learn firstname.lastname@example.org that’s gene.com from Susan G Komen. This is real pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Adam (00:54): Every 13 minutes someone in the US loses their life to breast cancer. That’s why Komen has invested more than $210 million in metastatic breast cancer research, including more than 500 research grants in more than 50 clinical trials. Joining us today to discuss metastatic breast cancer in his own personal journey is Leslie Mullins. Leslie, welcome to the show.
Leslie (01:17): Glad to be here. It’s my pleasure.
Adam (01:19): I’m really excited to talk to you. But before we started the questions, just tell us a little bit about your story.
Leslie (01:26): Well, my story as far as cancer begins in 2011, early February. And I had been noticing a lump in my left breast, ignored it for quite a while. And then finally my wife kept talking to me and I was going for a physical. She said, well, just talk to the doc during the process. While I was doing that, almost left out what I’ll say, anything. But I asked the doctor, “what would this lump be here on my left breast?” And he looked at, he says, immediately, just says, I don’t like the way it feels. He said the only way we can know anything else is to do a mammogram, ultrasound. And if that shows anything that would just go ahead and do a biopsy and see what was going on. I had never heard of male breast cancer. And as my journey started, I realized men do get breast cancer.
Leslie (02:24): And since I had waited for quite a while, it ended up my breast cancer had gone invasive and had involved most of or all of my lymph nodes up under my arm. At that point, it was becoming obvious that it was probably is not the greatest diagnosis you could have.
But we went ahead and the doctors I had were treating me and later after thinking that my journey was over, because I had had this mastectomy and then I have chemo and radiation. I thought I was well on my way to getting back into health, but I kept having a pain in my hip area. My surgeon, he noticed it one day and he said: I’m not the oncologist, but it just doesn’t look right.
Leslie (03:31): So we ordered a biopsy only bone area and yes, cancer had metastasized to my bones and that was in about mid to later, 2012. So it didn’t take long for that. The doctors said well, we’ll treat for pain. We’re not, we’re not really set up for metastatic cancer. That’s when I started searching out for other avenues of finding an advanced treatment and have been doing treatment basically ever since late 2012.
It’s been a journey. I’ve been up a lot and down a little bit. I am still doing that right now. I am doing chemo. I’ve started that here, says January if the cancer has started, I guess we’ve taken a little bit. And so we’re, we changed the game plan a little, but fortunately with things going on with Coleman is I have options. That’s, that’s really been a benefit, in keeping me here and, and that, and my oncologist is saying I’m well away from the end of my journey as far as options. So that’s just a total blessing. There is, the research is going on and, and new treatments are coming out quite often.
Adam (05:04): That’s right. That’s right. And I’m, and I’m glad that you, I’m glad that you chose to do that research and recognize that, you know, you weren’t, you weren’t satisfied with the answer and so you did the research to find other options and that’s really, really wonderful. So let’s talk for just a moment about what metastatic breast cancer is. Can you just kind of give us that definition? What does that mean?
Leslie (05:25): Metastatic breast cancer is….. typically your breast cancer is, is in the breast area of course. If it’s contained within the breast cancer, that’s your traditional where you can just do either surgery, however, you want to get it out of the breast area. But if it does pass, like mine got into the lymph nodes, which allowed it to get into my blood, which allowed it to go through my body. Now once it’s outside the breast cavity, it’s got free run. The name metastatic means it has gone into the rest of the body.
Adam (06:04): Okay. Okay, gotcha. And, and sometimes breast cancer has metastasized at the time of someone’s first diagnosis. What is the treatment for someone? Initially diagnosed with breast cancer.
Leslie (06:18): The treatment that I had initially was…. they said, since I’m a male, let’s go ahead and cut the cancer out by doing the surgery. With a female, quite often is, if it’s, especially if it’s early stages, is, is to try to save some of the breast tissue. But they said with being a man, we’re not interested that much in the breast tissue. So the doctor was very much adamant, let’s get cancer out and then let’s do the chemo and radiation. So that’s the treatment plan that I had.
Adam (06:56): Okay, great. Right. And that makes sense. So sometimes breast cancer can recur and the recurrence of breast cancer may not have any symptoms even when it spread to other parts of the body. So what are the most common signs and symptoms of metastatic breast cancer?
Leslie (07:15): It, it can be difficult according to what part of the body it goes. Cause some parts you get body, your internal organs, you may not notice something until it is well advanced into the metastatic, but mine first going to the bones, the predominant symptom in the bones is pain. Right? So, and, and my doctor is telling me says, well that’s, even though you’d never want it to metastasize, the bones is one of the better places because you have the pain by tracing the pain down, they know where to treat and where the cancer may be going. And maybe even if the cancer is subsided for a while.
Adam (08:00): Yeah. In other interviews that I’ve done, also, they’ve emphasized the importance of just knowing your body and recognizing when your body is not, is not right. It’s not enormous is off. And so I think there’s a time where you just recognize, Hey, something’s off. I need to go get it checked out. And, and sometimes that may be pain or maybe something else.
Leslie (08:20): It could be either, it can be a stomach upset, it could be a kind of knowledge is failing. It could be just, I mean, just the sense of, well, I got bad headaches quite often during my journey is that I tell the oncologist, Hey, I’ve got, I’ve got headaches that have come up. First thing is she wants to do is well let’s start looking at it and maybe if it’s, if it’s headaches, well, let’s start thinking about maybe an MRI and just not that we are looking for a cancer in the brain, but that would be a symptom.
Adam (08:59): Right, right. So what would you recommend for those that have been diagnosed with breast cancer? They’ve completed their treatment, they’ve been told they’re cancer free by their oncologist. How can they stay vigilant about their own healthcare?
Leslie (09:15): Well, what I’ve tried to do is of course, eat, well. I’ve tried to cut down on the sugars and cut down on the carbs, trying to eat more vegetables more. It’s as fresh as I can on my, I know sometimes in the wintertime with can’t get fresh, but we can get frozen fresh. And so that’s, that’s basically what I’ve been trying to do is just keep my body as healthy as I can, where my body can fight. If my body has ability to where it’s healthy in general, the cancer tends to respond in a good way.
Adam (09:56): Yeah. I mean, I think you’re right. I think that the healthier we can be as individuals, the more likely we are to continue to be healthy. Right?
Leslie (10:06): And don’t forget your doctor. You may be away from the thing and you’re saying, well, my journey is good. I’m just going to go about my way. Don’t do it that way. That’s not smart.
Adam (10:17): That’s right. So last question. What recommendations do you have for someone that may have concerns about breast cancer recurrence?
Leslie (10:25): If you feel something is wrong in your body, just please note your symptoms, even symptoms that may go away before you see your doctor. That’s one thing. My doctor is it really stressed anytime during the time period where I am not telling him about it, because those are important time periods. It will flare up and it will back off. But if you have a worry about recurrence, please talk to your doctor.
Adam (10:56): That’s right. Leslie, this has been really great. I’m inspired by your example for how you’ve listened to your body, how you’ve searched for new information, how you’ve not been willing to settle in. I really appreciate the example you set for the breast cancer community and have a good, have a good rest of your day, my friend.
Thanks to Genentech for supporting Real Pink. To find out more about Genentech’s latest research advancements, visit gene.com. Intro and outro music is City Sunshine by Kevin MacLeod. Ad music is Blue Skies by Silent Partner.