• Taking Metastatic Disease off the Backburner

    Personal Stories


    Nikki Panico and her mom

    By Nikki Panico, Executive Director of Komen Southeast Wisconsin

    No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to be diagnosed with it. The reality is that those diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer are forever fighting.

    Long before I started working for Komen Southeast Wisconsin, I watched my mom and aunt battle metastatic breast cancer, and lose their fights. I remember how bewildered and confused my sisters and I were about the diagnosis, treatment options, insurance constraints, and the emotional journey they were going through. We would have found so much benefit from an open forum that discussed these issues.

    There is a lot of talk about screening and early detection, with the hope of one day being called a survivor. However, many will battle breast cancer until the end. They need to know that their issues and needs are a priority for Komen.

    Earlier this year, our team at Komen Southeast Wisconsin set out to build new relationships with patients who felt they had been forgotten. We teamed up with GE Healthcare to host a Metastatic Breast Cancer Symposium to get the ball rolling – offering basic science, clinical and survivorship information related to metastatic breast cancer.

    The event gave Drs. Ian Krop and Danny Welch, two of our Komen Scholars (some of the top researchers in the world) and advocates to share their latest findings. It also allowed people in our community, who participate in the Race and other events, to see where Komen research dollars are being used.

    Over 100 people attended, including those with metastatic breast cancer, as well as nurses and other healthcare professionals who actively care for these patients.

    The event created new opportunities for researchers and patients alike, with Komen Scholar Dr. Danny Welch (University of Kansas Cancer Center) sharing that he made new friends who offered insights he has already brought back to his lab.

    Another important voice in metastatic breast cancer was in attendance: Komen advocate and President of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, Shirley Mertz, who has been living with metastatic disease since 2003. Shirley encouraged our team’s hard work, saying, “We often put screening and early detection at the forefront, while this more difficult subject may be put on the backburner. This symposium will start to change that outlook.”

    Other attendees shared their own experiences. One woman – a member of our Komen SE Wisconsin Board – was amazed to discover she was on a drug that one of the Komen Scholars helped to create! Another shared how the research presented gave her a sense of confidence in her doctor as well as her treatments.

    Their words confirmed that this is an event from which the Milwaukee community, and the breast cancer community, can benefit.

    It wasn’t all that long ago that society wasn’t even comfortable saying the word “breast.” Sometimes it takes an open forum and a committed mission to break down those barriers. I’m proud to be a part of an organization – and a wonderful team – who are focused on every person who is diagnosed with breast cancer.

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