The icon of the cancer superhero creates stress for patients, and while it may help society feel more comfortable with the disease, Joyce Bichler, deputy director of the San Francisco-based organization Breast Cancer Action, points out: “We don't want to be comfortable with cancer. Cancer sucks.”
There are no guarantees
When Donna Denison needed Herceptin, at age 62 in the spring of 2005, she had to wait for its approval in Ontario, which came just in time that summer. These past five years have brought her two new grandchildren.
Her friend, Sue Cortlett, also received Herceptin in 2005, but was not as lucky. She died in September, 2008, of a recurrence of the disease.
“I can be philosophical – on a good day, we really have such limited control over our affairs,” Ms. Denison says. “But when push comes to shove, what we want is more and not all of us are going to get it.”
For Nathalie Le Prohon, the one lesson she can impart from the Herceptin campaign is that patients must be their own best advocates.
“I truly believe I am alive because of all of this,” said Ms. Le Prohon, 47. “I was always an extremely busy, career woman who gets results. So I attacked the cancer the same way.”
She paid $13,000 (U.S.) to obtain two treatments in Buffalo. And she was one of the first women to get the drug when it was funded in Ontario.
Today, her life is focused on advocacy rather than swinging big business deals: She does charity runs, fundraises for children's schools and is chair of the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, and has considered running as a Liberal candidate for parliament.
Though Herceptin helped Ms. Le Prohon make the best of her cancer experience, she says, it was by far the hardest thing she has ever done.
“Every time I go for a new mammogram, the worry creeps in again. You have to live with that all your life. You are never cancer free. You are always thinking: ‘When will the beast return?'”