ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — So much has changed in the treatment of breast cancer in the past 25 years that women must not only imagine their lives if they survive, but they must also plan their futures.
“Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you throw away your future,” says Dr. Melanie Royce, a medical oncologist and moderator of a Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation free breast medical seminar March 21.
Royce says women, especially young women with aggressive breast cancer, are often so focused on beating the cancer that they don’t really want to think about other choices they need to make, like whether they want more children or a family at all.
“We didn’t talk about this in the way-way past of breast cancer, because not that many women survived. Now treatment has improved so significantly we have millions of cancer survivors, not only from breast cancer, but other cancers as well,” Royce says. “The reason for all this treatment is so you can have a life after breast cancer.”
Royce, a longtime board member of the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation, which celebrates 25 years of helping New Mexico families deal with breast cancer, will head a panel of experts, including fertility specialist Dr. Lee Caperton. Dr. Amit Garg will talk about advances in radiation oncology, while Dr. Stephanie Fine will share new developments in surgical oncology. The medical seminar March 21, beginning at 10 a.m. at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Spa, is eligible for continuing education credits for health professionals.
“The preservation of fertility is about strategies for best timing,” she explains. Because many cancers depend on female hormones, like estrogen, treating those cancers can result in infertility.
Some options women have include egg or embryo harvests for later pregnancies, before they begin breast cancer treatment, Royce says.
Beyond fertility, Royce says imagining and planning for a life after breast cancer is important for all women and their families: “The management of breast cancer has evolved for the better in the past 25 years. We have better weapons, better tolerated chemotherapy.”
Dr. Diana Weber, also on the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation board and a breast surgeon at Presbyterian, says not only are women and their health care team finding breast cancers sooner, but they are also surviving more advanced cancers. She says she was amazed to read than even in people with an advanced state of the disease, 95 percent had survived for two years or longer.
“People are living longer today with their disease even in late stages,” she says. “We have so many more treatment options.”
Survival rates today were unimaginable 25 years ago, Weber says. “I know I’ve said this before: this is not your mother’s cancer or your grandmother’s cancer.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, 89.2 percent of those diagnosed with all breast cancers survive for five years or longer.
Along with the medical expert panel, the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation 25th Annual Celebration of Hope, will host a survivors panel, who will tell their stories of living with breast cancer and how new advances have helped them and their families, Weber says. A benefit fundraising luncheon at noon follows the free seminars, both at 10 a.m.
The Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation is a breast cancer fund raising and educational outreach organization. Established in 1990 by Dr. Vaun and Mary Floyd, the foundation is a memorial to their daughter Nancy, who died of breast cancer at age 42.
Its projects include free breast cancer seminars, money for mammograms for people who are underinsured or underserved, support services for people in cancer treatment, current breast cancer resource material for libraries across the state and grant awards to groups active in supporting those with breast cancer. All funds raised stay in New Mexico.