Two days before moving to be closer to her parents, Kathy Coursey-Boes of Oxford, learned that her breast cancer had metastasized in her ribs. Needless to say, it put a serious damper on her plans of taking care of her mother and father as well as her husband and daughter.
Originally diagnosed in 2001 with stage II breast cancer, Coursey-Boes had her right breast removed and then began five rounds of chemotherapy.
"We went real aggressive," she said. "I decided on the mastectomy. They advised me against it because of my age — I was 41 at the time — but I had a 4-year-old and I wanted to be here as long as possible."
When diagnosed with stage IV cancer in 2004, she decided to have her other breast removed and again began chemo and radiation therapy. She has been off chemo for almost a year and currently takes a variety of prescription medicines and receives localized radiation to her shoulder once a week.
"It’s more for pain control than for cancer control," she said. "When you have a child, you have to stay behind the pain."
Coursey-Boes is one of this year’s Bright Starts Pink Power Moms. Nominated by a friend, she was chosen because of her advocacy efforts on behalf of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network.
In September, she and seven women and one man visited Washington, D.C., on an advocacy trip with the goal of having Congress create a resolution declaring a National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. The Senate signed a resolution on Sept. 30 designating Oct. 13, 2009, as that day.
The advocacy trip was not only about creating awareness for stage IV breast cancer, but also about garnering more funding for research. According to Coursey-Boes, less than 1 percent of breast cancer research funding is dedicated to metastatic conditions, but 30 percent of those diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will have it develop into stage IV. She said that is a scary statistic considering one in eight women will be diagnosed with some type of breast cancer in her lifetime. Currently, around 155,000 women and men are living with metastatic breast cancer.
The MBCN also has taken a stand on many health care reform issues presently being debated on the national political scene.
The network is advocating the elimination of insurance disqualification based on preexisting conditions as well as health insurance payout maximums. She said her husband’s insurance payout maximum has not increased since the 70s and cancer treatment and pain management can cost millions even in a single year.
Coursey-Boes and others affiliated with MBCN also would like the 24-month waiting period for Medicaid to kick in after disability is claimed to be reduced or abolished. The National Cancer Institute Web site lists the average survival rate of a metastatic patient as between two and three years with 10 percent living 10 years or more past diagnosis. Coursey-Boes, a five-year survivor, considers herself very blessed.
"It’s not a choice you have," she said. "People say, ‘oh, you’re so brave’ but we don’t have a choice. To me bravery is when you choose to face something. We’re just living with it."
She said that while no cure exists for metastatic breast cancer, survival is possible. The MBCN aims to increase the quality of life for stage IV patients.
As winner of the title of a 2009 Pink Power Mom Coursey-Boes received a $5,000 donation to MBCN, photo session at Sears, various children’s products, gift certificates, a weekend at the Four Seasons in Atlanta with a spa package and a seat at the annual Kids Night Out banquet in Atlanta.
She said that her survival is aided by the love of her family, attending a support group in Newton County and one in Rockdale County and her faith.
"I have a lot of faith in God," she said, "and people say, ‘if you have faith in God, then he will cure you.’ And I say, ‘yeah, but that’s not always his plan.’"
Helping others helps her as well. She offers simple advice to those who are newly diagnosed.
"Accept the help that’s offered," she said. "Don’t be too proud to reach out to people."
For more information about the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, visit www.mbcnetwork.org.