In September 2011, Brandi McWade was diagnosed with Stage IIB Breast Cancer. She was 27 years old. She spent the following year undergoing extensive and aggressive treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation, lymph node dissection, and a double mastectomy. It was the longest and hardest year of her life, but she maintained a positive outlook and powered through without complaint.
By fall of 2012, the doctors were confident that their aggressive treatment plan had rid her body of cancer. She was placed on Tamoxifen as a precautionary measure, and got busy getting back to her life as it was before.
When Brandi began having back pain in early 2014, she had little cause to believe it was related to her previous cancer diagnosis. Her doctor assumed it was a common back injury, and recommended a chiropractor. But the pain persisted. Fearing something worse and with her dad being diagnosed with bone cancer after back pain, Brandi pushed for an MRI scan. A couple of weeks before her 30th birthday, her fears were confirmed – tumors were growing in her hips and lower back. Breast cancer had spread to her bones.
Brandi’s new diagnosis was Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer. This was an altogether different reality than the first time around. Instead of a fight to beat cancer, Brandi was now in a lifelong battle to live with her cancer and do everything possible to slow its growth. Presently, there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer.
The treatment options she has tried to date have all had varying periods of success, but ultimately results have been less than hoped for. Her most recent scan shows continued growth in her bones, and a doubling of tumor size in vital organs and lymph nodes. She is amending her treatment plan yet again to try and slow this growth, and will participate in a clinical trial at UCSF in July as part of research into a treatment known as Immunotherapy.
Since her original diagnosis Brandi has shown incredible strength and grace. She has spent countless hours visiting with doctors and undergoing extensive and often debilitating treatments, while continuing to work a full-time job at Red Tricycle and live a normal life. She has also become a spokeswoman for non-profit organizations and has published articles to raise awareness about breast cancer in women under 30. With the encouragement of her doctor, Brandi has made the difficult decision to stop working to focus on her health, well-being and quality of life.
She hopes to travel, continue to make memories with friends and spend time with her family, who are all on the east coast. She has also been active in pursuing integrative treatments outside of her regular medical care, and has found some success in pain management through bodywork and alternative healing therapies. She hopes to continue this treatment. There are also numerous alternative cancer treatments across the country and around the world. Many of these treatments show promise but have yet to be approved by the FDA and therefore fall outside the scope of insurance coverage. Her ability to pursue them is entirely dependent on her ability to pay for them out of pocket.
Throughout this time, Brandi has been buoyed by the love and support of family and friends. She will now rely on that support more than ever, and is reaching out to the wider community for support as well. She needs our help. Funding she receives will buy her the time and resources to continue to pursue all available treatment options, including the alternative and integrative treatments that have shown promise but fall outside the medical care she is currently receiving. It will also free her to dedicate time to her mental and emotional well-being, to surround herself with the people she loves, and continue to find the strength to navigate this difficult path.