'2-3 years to live': Breast cancer patients unite to change prognosis

SEATTLE -- Forty thousand women are expected to die from breast cancer this year, despite the push for mammograms, self checks and the parades of pink reminders the number has remained relatively unchanged for more than a decade.

It's that startling statistic that's the new message coming out of a breast cancer conference this weekend in Seattle.

"The statistics are not good -- and you are not a statistic," said Teri Pollastro.

It's that mantra she learned from her doctor when she received word her breast cancer had not only returned, it had spread.

"I played that mantra in my head, because everyone I know has passed away," she said.

Pollastro is one of the lucky ones, she's been able to fight her metastatic cancer for 14 years. She said it's what keeps her moving.

"We’re not those early stage people, there’s no cure for us," he said. "It’s very scary."

Her cancer, like every attendee's cancer at the Northwest Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference, has spread to other parts of her body. It's almost always lethal, making up 90 percent of cancer deaths.

"I did meet two other women who had children like me and they did pass away, so in a way it was very isolating and for years I spent a lot of time by myself," she said.

Pollastro said it's why she's a part of creating the NMBCC, the first of it's kind for our area, now in it's second year. More than 350 people are expected to turn out for this weekend's event in Seattle.

"You come to these things and you’re like, 'Oh, I have breast cancer' and then you hear someone else say, 'Oh, me too!' and 'Oh, me too. I had the same thing,'" said Rebecca Seago-Coyle, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her thirties. "Just being surrounded by people who are going through the same thing you are going through or have been through it is so powerful."

Pollastro and Seago-Coyle said they are able to discuss all the things no one else wants to talk about with them, like the reality of death with the hope of survival. They can talk about their legacy, about finding a cure, and also for some, talk about not fitting into stereotypes.

"People thought I was dying and then when they would see me they almost felt like I was a ghost," said Pollastro.

"We got handed the short straw with a disease that nobody wants, but we want to pay it forward and make this something that’s going to be positive and make this outcome something better for other women," said Leigh Pate, a metastatic cancer patient and breast cancer advocate.

Sessions on Friday are open to all breast cancer patients and will cover all kinds of information on how to heal from and possibly reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back.  Saturday sessions are for the Metastatic/Stage IV patient and will cover the latest treatment advances, research trials, and national issues affecting Metastatic Breast Cancer patients.