SEATTLE -- It might seem like a strange thing to hear, but if you have to have breast cancer, researchers say now is a good time. Science is making major strides treating the disease, but for that to keep happening, doctors say more patients need to step up and help.
Teri Pollastro knows the importance of clinical trials to treat breast cancer. The day she became a mother for the second time, she also became a cancer patient. Teri found a lump while breastfeeding in the hospital. Motherhood was suddenly coupled with cancer treatment.
"I just wanted to raise them," Teri said of her daughters Maddy and Joe. "I was so afraid my younger daughter wouldn't remember me, and every night in bed I would sing to them and rub their backs, because I didn't want them to forget who I was."
Teri beat the disease, but four years later it was back. And this time, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer - stage four, spread to her liver. Her doctor put her on the cancer drug herceptin.
"That has been my drug," Teri said. "And if it wasn't for research, that drug wouldn't be here. Without participating in a clinical trial, there will never be a cure for any type of cancer. And we need that."
Dr. Nora Disis is making strides in new treatments, including with a breast cancer vaccine designed to prevent recurrence.
"We've identified many proteins that are involved in making breast cancer grow that can be stimulated by the immune system," Dr. Disis said. "We can create vaccines that will generate the exact type of immunity you need to kill the cancer."
It's a hopeful time in science. But Disis says right now, just 10% of cancer patients enroll in clinical trials.
"With so many exciting drugs and approaches coming out of the laboratory and languishing in the clinic, we really need patients to partner with researchers to be able to test these therapies and push them forward," Disis said.
Teri saw those moments with her daughters she was afraid she would miss. Now, she also wants to see her youngest graduate college and to see both her girls get married. She wants to live.
"I want this for everyone who has stage four cancer, and the only way that's going to happen is through research and clinical trials," she said.
Teri is helping to bring the Northwest Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference to Seattle on Saturday, Sept.7. They promise "the most current information on treatments, research trials, patient support and national issues for metastatic/stage IV breast cancer (MBC) and lobular breast cancer (ILC)." While the conference is free, registration is required and must be complete by Wednesday, September 4th.