BREAST Cancer Welfare Association Malaysia (BCWA), supported by Pfizer Malaysia, has launched #UnPause which is a community initiative to rally metastatic breast cancer (MBC) patients to live life to the fullest, raise public awareness and avert treatment disruption caused by Covid-19.
Catering to the increasingly tech-savvy and mobile audience, as well as complying with current physical distancing practices, the initiative is anchored by a digital resource hub known as
thrive-malaysia.com, where visitors can find information about MBC, treatment options, support groups, financial assistance and video stories of courageous MBC patients that will help those living with MBC feel less isolated.
MBC, the most advanced stage of breast cancer in which cancer has spread beyond the breast to other organs in the body, remains an under-represented voice in the mainstream narrative.
In fact, three in every five respondents surveyed by BCWA in 2019 said they knew little to nothing about MBC.
It is the second leading cause of cancer death among women today.
Even when diagnosed at an early stage, up to 30% of women with early breast cancer will eventually progress to metastatic stage.
“Feelings of fear, anxiety and distress that a person with MBC faces is hard to put into words, ” said BCWA president Ranjit Kaur.
Moreover, cancer patients, their families and caregivers are disproportionally impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Over the past few months, media reports and first-hand accounts from medical practitioners have reported stories of cancer patients whose treatment had been disrupted due to the movement control order.
According to Cancer Research Malaysia’s survey in April, almost half of the patients were concerned about attending hospital appointments due to fear of Covid-19 infection.
The reality is cancer patients are facing an impossible dilemma.
There are many factors to consider when making important decisions such as postponing cancer treatment to avoid a potential infection with Covid-19.
Patients should discuss with their oncologist about the risks of postponing treatment versus the potential benefit of decreasing their infection risk.
“Many hospitals and cancer clinics have taken appropriate steps designed to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission, ” said consultant clinical oncologist Dr Malwinder Singh.
“Where possible, some centres are also offering virtual appointments, in which patients and physicians can meet online.
“Consult your healthcare providers for advice on safe visits and options available, ” he added.
Three out of five surveyed in 2019 believed that MBC was caused by late detection of breast cancer.
This misconception may lead to stigmatisation of people with MBC.
“At BCWA, our community outreach team is constantly trying to dispel myths and misinformation of MBC as there is a huge stigma against it, ” said Ranjit.
“This stigma is not only related to society’s misconception but also the self-concept of the patient feeling stigmatised.
“That is why BCWA is committed to providing psychosocial peer support, practical assistance and educational resources.
“The time has come for us living with breast cancer (the early, the advanced and the metastatic) to feel equally embraced.
“We are pleased to be partnering with Pfizer once more to get the message out to even more people, ” she added.
About 62% of survey respondents also believed that MBC was untreatable. Statistically, many patients can live long, fulfilling and productive lives while being treated for metastatic disease.
There are many approaches to treating MBC and new treatments are being tested every day.
“Each patient’s treatment plan will be different because every breast cancer is unique, ” said Dr Malwinder.
“While MBC cannot be cured, the goal of MBC treatment is to slow down or stop cancer growth while maintaining the patient’s quality of life.”He also emphasised the importance of access to treatment options and professional guidance on the risks and benefits.
When it comes to treatment seeking approaches, the 2019 survey by BCWA revealed about 80% of survey respondents believed that affordability was the main barrier preventing patients from seeking effective medical treatment.
“I understand that affordability remains one of the main barriers faced by patients when it comes to MBC treatments, ” said Dr Malwinder.
“There are several financing options in Malaysia that support MBC patients, for example, government hospitals, Social Security Organisation, Employees Provident Fund, insurance and patient assistance programmes.
“Speak to your doctor to learn more, ” he added.