Understanding MBC: Chronic vs. Terminal

Understanding MBC: Chronic vs. Terminal

By Sharon A - Jun 18, 2019

The term “terminal” usually refers to a progressive disease that is incurable, irreversible, and does not respond to treatment. Death is usually the expected result within a short period of time. Some examples of terminal diseases are AIDS and metastatic cancer. Some examples of chronic diseases are asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and hypertension.

In cases of terminal diseases, it’s not always about lengthening our lives, but also about improving our quality of life. Being a patient with inflammatory breast cancer requires lifelong treatments. These treatments sometimes cause a host of chronic side effects. Often patients with chronic or terminal illnesses will feel extremely isolated in their situation.

As a terminally ill cancer patient, I have an entirely different outlook on life than a chronically ill cancer patient. Thoughts of recurrence, death or becoming resistant to my treatments are always lurking in the back of my mind. Some cancer mutations can make the cells resistant to chemotherapy, targeted cancer drugs or hormone therapy. Some cancers can develop resistance to many drugs at the same time. The thought of these things can be overwhelming. Knowing that there is no cure for my disease and that I have no guarantee of survival is a hard pill to swallow.

Unlike a patient with a chronic illness, metastatic patients, like myself, have to prepare ourselves mentally every three months for the same grueling test. I have to walk in a cloud of fear every time I get ready to have a PET scan, CT scan of my chest, abdomen, and pelvis or any other area of my body that may or may not have a lesion, lump or bump. A person with chronic diseases like, hypertension or diabetes can potentially control their disease with a proper diet and exercise.

A person diagnosed with a terminal illness like metastatic breast cancer can exercise and diet, but it will not change the fact that they will eventually succumb to their disease.

Long term chemotherapy treatments and medication prescribed to combat the many side effects left behind by the treatments, affect your overall health and quality of life. As a patient diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, I feel that my condition cannot be described as chronic because death is inevitable. Until a cure for metastatic cancer is found, a chronic condition is no comparison to a terminal one in the cancer world.

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