Skip to main content

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

By Cate Edwards, Special to CNN
updated 6:32 AM EDT, Wed October 9, 2013
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
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT