It’s a sad fact that today, nearly everyone knows someone who’s had breast cancer. Yet there’s one fact not everyone knows: 30% of people with early-stage breast cancer who’ve “beaten” the disease will eventually see it return as stage IV, also known as advanced or metastatic breast cancer (MBC). That means the disease has spread to other parts of the body, a diagnosis that carries an average life expectancy of just 24 to 36 months. MBC is the only form of breast cancer that kills. Yet while MBC claims the lives of 115 people in the U.S. daily (“like an airplane falling from the sky every single day”), less than 5% of US breast cancer funds raised go toward researching new treatments for it. Worldwide, more than 685,000 people die of MBC annually.
A new take on the pink ribbon
Those shocking statistics explain why more and more people are embracing a reimagined breast-cancer-awareness ribbon that goes beyond pink. Created in 1992 by Alexandra Penney, then editor-in-chief of Self magazine, as part of the brand’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month initiative, the instantly recognizable pink breast cancer ribbon is closely associated with early detection and celebrating survivors—but there’s no surviving or “beating” MBC, just buying time via treatment. Thus a tricolor ribbon for metastatic breast cancer aims to raise awareness for the need to direct funding toward the development of life-extending treatments. In this ribbon designed and trademarked by the MBC nonprofit Metavivor, green represents the triumph of spring over winter, life over death; teal symbolizes healing and spirituality; and a thin pink-ribbon overlay signifies metastatic cancer that originated in the breast.
A game-changing fundraiser
One inspiring initiative that’s helped the ribbon for MBC and metastatic breast cancer research to go mainstream is an annual event that shines light on its colors and its cause—quite literally and beautifully. During #LightUpMBC, more than 200 iconic landmarks around the world illuminate in green, pink, and teal. Sites range from soaring skyscrapers like New York City’s One World Trade Center to natural wonders like Niagara Falls and span all 50 states and beyond. On October 13 (National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day), viewers can find a local landmark to visit in person prior to taking it all in from the comfort of home by tuning in to #LightUpMBC Live, a virtual benefit kicking off at 8:30 p.m. ET./5:30 p.m. PT. Livestreaming on the LiveOne app and platform, YouTube, Facebook Live, and metavivor.org/lightupmbc, the show will feature inspiring MBC stories told from the illuminated landmarks around the globe. Celebrity guests will include Marc Roberge, lead singer and co-founder of the band O.A.R., and Broadway stars Bianca Marroquin (Chicago), Tony Award winner Ali Stroker (Oklahoma!), Christine Dwyer (Wicked), and Matt DeAngelis (Waitress). The show will be co-hosted and produced by Tami Eagle Bowling, motivational speaker, and Stage IV MBC thriver, alongside Christine Nagy, Gracie Award-winning radio personality from 106.7 Lite FM.
In addition to the live event, more than a dozen #LightUpMBC Fun Runs will take place across the country this fall; participants can run, walk, or dance to help raise funds for MBC research. Another fun new facet to the annual fundraising effort: a Shimmer for the Cure jewelry collection with a range of pieces that incorporate teal, green, and pink gemstones, with 100 percent of profits going to Metavivor. And Little Words Project is offering a version of its popular word bracelets that raises awareness and funds for MBC—the letter beads spell out “Faith Over Fear.”
The original spark for #LightUpMBC came from Laura Inahara, a New Hampshire woman who lost her best friend, Jessica Moore, to metastatic breast cancer. A varsity girls’ basketball coach, Moore had gotten elbowed in the breast while playing the game one day, and the resulting pain kept lingering. As a nurse, she knew her injury should be healing more quickly. After she visited doctors to get checked out, she found out she had metastatic breast cancer—meaning the disease had already progressed and spread to her bones, despite her having no other symptoms. She was only 32. She fought the disease for four years, passing away at age 36. “Prior to Jessica’s passing, she said she thought it would be amazing to light a landmark for MBC as a way to raise awareness,” says Inahara, who founded a group called Moore Fight Moore Strong in her friend’s honor. In October 2017, five months after Moore died, the group lit their first landmark—the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, near Jessica’s hometown.
A working mom by day, Inahara began sitting down each night to work on expanding #LightUpMBC. Later she met Bowling, who developed the idea for a live broadcast that would greatly expand the event’s fundraising reach. “I created #LightUpMBC Live as a platform for people to see the landmarks lighting in solidarity around the world and hear stories directly from families affected by MBC. The campaign is designed to educate, inspire and raise critical funds for MBC research,” Bowling says. Now the annual event is a major source of donations where all proceeds benefit Metavivor, to fund research treatments that could turn stage-IV breast cancer into a chronic disease instead of a deadly one. “A lot of people say we’re in a golden age for cancer research, and I couldn’t agree more,” says Nikhil Wagle, MD, medical oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, whose research is funded in part by proceeds from this annual event. “We are starting to really personalize the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. It’s no longer a single diagnosis. We understand that there are different subtypes, different mutations, and we’re able to identify particular subsets of patients who would respond to a particular therapy or combination of therapies.” It’s exactly the sort of progress that Metavivor is working toward. “Metavivor remains the only US organization dedicated to awarding annual grants for peer-reviewed research into stage-IV breast cancer,” Inahara explains. “That is what it will take to find a cure and stop losing more than 43,000 lives to breast cancer each year. We feel certain that we can get more research funding so no more of our friends have to die from this disease. There is often a misconception there is a cure for breast cancer. We want to share with anyone who will listen that there is not.”
Visit Metavivor to get involved in public awareness and advocacy campaigns, fundraising, and more.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Learn more about women living with metastatic breast cancer and their loved ones here: