Breast Cancer Bone Mets Affects the Whole Family
Everyone’s heart goes out to a woman diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. At this point, the cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs, including bones, lung, liver, brain and skin.
Naturally, the patient herself is the main focus of concern for those who love her. However, cancer is a family disease because it affects each person mentally and emotionally. Fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, isolation, and a host of other feelings are shared by family members. They also experience physical effects such as fatigue, appetite changes, and stress on the immune system as they cope with medical appointments, running errands, interrupted sleep or changes in sleep habits, to name just a few. And, if the patient is a mother with children at home, her disease creates new parenting challenges both for her and her spouse or partner.
Bone mets: the “new family normal”
The most common site for breast cancer metastasis is the bones. Bone mets are feared because they can incapacitate the patient through breakage and pain. As she tries to come to terms with her own issues (declining quality of life, side effects of treatment, the ability to care for family, and care at the end of life) her immediate and extended family members are constantly adapting to accommodate her needs. This state becomes the “new family normal.” From children to elders, the need to find and maintain optimum quality revolves around fear that she may suffer, and worry that she will die.
Bone mets are a particularly frightening. They are a common source of chronic pain due to changes in bone tissue and nerves, and acute pain due to fractures. If a patient’s bone mets are in her spine, back discomfort requires immediate attention since a fragile vertebra may be on the verge of breaking and compressing the spinal cord and nerves. This can lead to hyper-vigilance among family members, who may already feel overextended as they take on extra duties and chores.
As the patient’s husband/partner, parents, children and siblings are doing their best to make life easier for her, they may be depleting their own inner resources. They also have needs that deserve recognition. Practicing self-care without guilt may be difficult since they perceive that the patient’s needs are greater than their own. Today’s oncology teams are sensitive to this “new normal” in their patient’s family. Medical social workers and psychologists can help family members identify their feelings and needs, give themselves permission to take wellness breaks, and connect them with community resources such as support groups, childcare resources and volunteer helpers. These professionals can also help “normalize” the patient’s care protocol by explaining it in a way that family members – especially older children – can understand.
It’s important to recognize that patients with bone mets are now surviving longer because of clinical advances. Being pain-free a major aspect of experiencing good quality of life. A woman with Stage IV bone mets will find that her medical caregivers are very quick to work with her at the first inkling of discomfort, especially bone pain.
Thankfully, there are excellent ways to manage and alleviate bone pain. If medication becomes less effective, or the patient herself desires to minimize drug use, the Sperling Medical Groups offers MRI-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS) to treat bone mets pain. This FDA-approved treatment is completely noninvasive, with no surgery or exposure to radiation. While no treatment is guaranteed to be effective with every patient, in one study of 147 patients, 65% reported significant pain relief at 3 months after treatment.
Contact the Sperling Medical Group to learn if you or a loved one with breast cancer bone mets is a candidate for MRgFUS.
Irvin W Jr, Muss H, Mayer D. Symptom management in metastatic breast cancer. Oncologist. 2011 Sep;16(9):1203-14.
- Bone mets