CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Stacy McAloon will never forget the day she learned she had breast cancer. It was 1998. Since then, her cancer has returned almost like clockwork every two years.
“I’ve had in my spine twice and here in the middle of my back,” McAloon said. “It ate through my femur, (and) most recently, it came back here in a teeny tiny little part of my brain.”
McAloon has metastatic breast cancer, which means the cancer cells spread to other parts of her body.
“It’s come back in my lungs maybe five or six times,” she told 10 On Your Side. “I’ve had a million dollars of radiation done to my lungs alone.”
First diagnosed in her 30s her children were just five, eight and 11-years-old. It’s all they’ve ever known.
“The look on their faces when you have to tell them that it has come back again,” she said, “especially when they look at you and the tears start rolling down their face and they say, ‘Mom I don’t want you to die.'”
Doctors at that first diagnosis gave McAloon just five years to live.
“While its not common to have one have metastatic disease for two, three decades, it happens,” said oncologist Dr. Nina Balanchivadze with Virginia Oncology Associates.
Metastatic patients make up less than 10% of Balanchivadze’s practice, but the metastatic patients will be treated, she said, for the rest of their lives.
“These women are so brave because they live day in and day out with many side effects of these medications,” Balanchivadze said.
The treatments often come in pill form and can deliver a toxic punch.
McAloon often loses her hair, some medications have devastated her digestive system , and most recently have wreaked havoc on her heart.
Then, there are all of the surgeries she has undergone to remove her breasts, uterus, ovaries, half of her liver and part of a lung.
“It is not the life I definitely would have chosen, but I do think it has changed me in a better way,” McAloon said.
She’s always smiling, whether on the water with her family or walking the runway to fight breast cancer with the Bra-Ha-Ha. She takes nothing for granted.
“They gave me five years to live, and here I am 25 years later, and you kind of wake up that day saying, I’m still here,” she said.
While finding a cure for metastatic disease is extremely difficult, clinical trials are showing promise for more effective treatments and targeted immunotherapies with fewer side effects. That is what keeps hope, and McAloon herself, alive.
“I thank the Lord every day that the medicine that is out there has worked in my body,” she said, “and that’s what I pray for please let the medicine continue.”