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The ultimate cancer taboo: Sometimes it kills you

Contemporary cancer gets couched in the language of cheerleaders. Even a generation ago, the mere word "cancer" seemed a certain death sentence; today, in contrast, it's an opportunity to talk about battles and fights and hope. It's something to be bravely dealt with – having cancer automatically designates a person a "warrior." – The disease is then referred to only at occasional "awareness" opportunities, preferably with a tasteful ribbon.

But people with metastatic cancer don't follow the tidy, cheerful narrative. They don't necessarily fit the inspirational survivor mold. And so they're ignored.

In the middle of her righteous New York Times Magazine story on breast cancer this past weekend, writer Peggy Orenstein dropped the bombshell statistic that "only an estimated 0.5 percent of all National Cancer Institute grants since 1972 focus on metastasis." As University of Kansas Cancer Center chairman Danny Welch explained to her, "A lot of people are under the notion that metastatic work is a waste of time." Orenstein went on to reveal just that last year, for the first time in its history, the Komen Foundation featured a woman with Stage 4 cancer in its ads. And the author herself describes meeting a different woman with metastatic breast cancer by admitting, "It isn't easy to face someone with metastatic disease," saying the woman's condition is her own "worst fear."

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