It was too late.
That’s what doctors told then 41-year-old Tami Eagle Bowling, a former New York City advertising sales executive, on May 9, 2015.
Two weeks earlier, after a routine mammogram, she had gone from being a seemingly healthy mother of two toddlers to a breast cancer patient. Shocked and scared, she was also ready to fight. She prepared to have a double mastectomy.
But then she learned surgery wouldn’t save her — the cancer had already spread to her liver. It was metastatic. And incurable.
While most breast cancer awareness campaigns are geared toward improving early detection and prevention, patients who succumb to the disease “almost never die from their primary tumor,” explains Alessandro Fatatis, a cancer researcher and professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at Drexel’s College of Medicine.
That’s because most breast tumors can be successfully treated with surgery or radiotherapy. But in 30 percent of breast cancer patients, cancer cells have also spread silently — or metastasized — to the brain, bones, lungs or liver, only to be discovered months, or sometimes years, after a complete mastectomy or other therapies. In some cases, like Bowling’s, a patient is diagnosed from the start with stage 4 breast cancer.