That night at the restaurant, the mood was festive. The women mingled, greeting old friends with wide hugs and occasional squeals. They swapped stories on
plane delays, hotel gyms, shopping and kids. They traded tales of radiation oncologists, bone mets, side effects and friends who died. Later on, they sat
at rectangular tables and scarfed down salad, garlic bread, ziti, deep-dish pizza, thin-crust pizza with vegetables, chocolate chip cookies and
pistachio-trimmed cannoli. They drank wine, ordered drinks and downed plenty of water. Some lingered over an hour beyond the gathering's scheduled end.
The official program started at 8AM the next morning. At one entrance to Northwestern University's Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center, a plump security guard smiled while directing stray
conference-goers to the right building. She wore a silver bracelet adorned with a metallic pink ribbon. The facility's modern lobby looked as it might
during a doctors' scientific meeting. Registrants, bleary from travel or a late night out listening to jazz, took seconds on coffee while pouring over the
day's schedule. Outside, the sky was gray but not yet raining.
The group assembled in the main auditorium. One of the MBCN directors, Ginny Knackmuhs of Wykoff, NJ, opened the meeting. "I've been living with metastatic
breast cancer for three and one half years," she announced. She thanked Novartis, Genentech and other companies for support, and mentioned that one board
member couldn't make it to the meeting because she'd just finished a course of whole brain radiation. "But she's here in spirit now."
Attendees at the MBCN meeting Oct. 13, 2012 [Photo credit: Ellen Schor]
Knackmuhs proceeded to direct the group, as follows: "I'd like all of you who are living with metastatic breast cancer to stand now." The majority at the
lecture stood at their seats. "Give your selves a hand," she said. "Those who were diagnosed three years or more remain standing. The rest sit down."
Approximately half of the women took their seats. "And by the way you've already beaten the odds," she added. Cheers and applause ensued. "Now, remain
standing if you are five years or more," she said. More women sat down. "Seven years or more," she continued. "Eight years or more." Most of a dozen women
remained standing. "Ten years or more," she said. Three women remained standing. The crowd hollered and clapped.
The first physician lecturer, a young oncologist at Northwestern, spoke on how physicians monitor the course of metastatic breast cancer in clinics. She
included PowerPoint slides with breast cancer survival curves. She reviewed CT and PET images of tumors, and explained some of the relevant technology. She
covered terms like "overall survival" and "progression free survival," and Phase I, II, III and IV clinical trials.