The Rapidian

McKay Tower and The Blue Bridge Are Lighting Up this Week. Why?

Throughout the year, our local landmarks light up in different colors for different reasons. In the second week of October, two of downtown Grand Rapids’ icons will light up in green, pink, and teal for Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness.
McKay Tower Grand Rapids, lit in green, pink, and teal for MBC awareness

McKay Tower Grand Rapids, lit in green, pink, and teal for MBC awareness /Christine Gribble

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2019, I was naturally distressed. But, that was also met with confidence that I would be treated and cured, much like others in my family, including my sister, my paternal grandmother, and my mother-in-law.

What followed next was completely unexpected: some small spots were noticed on my sternum after an MRI, which were later confirmed to be metastasis (that is, tumors in other parts of the body). A follow-up scan showed the cancer in other bones as well. And I went from curable to terminal—just like that.

What I have is called Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC, Stage IV Breast Cancer), and if you’ve ever wondered how people die from breast cancer, this is it. If it’s limited to the breast(s) and lymph nodes (Stages 1, 2, or 3), it is unlikely to be fatal; once it spreads to other parts of the body, typically the bones, liver, lungs, and brain, it is expected to continue spreading and metastasizing. At this time, treatment aims to delay progression, but it cannot yet be stopped, so it can, unfortunately, be the beginning of the end.    

In my scenario, my team opted to go through with a mastectomy and then immediately put me on a regimen of medications meant to delay progression of the disease. This is my first line of treatment, and I have been stable since starting it. While this is positive news, the reality is that I, and many others like me, live in constant worry of the day when our scans tell a different story. Life expectancy remains at 2-5 years, even though some are exceeding that prognosis. We wake each morning with optimism, but then we lose a sister (or brother; men can get breast cancer, too) and the emotional ride ratchets up again.

Everyone I’ve met is different. Some joined support groups right away; others never have. I waited about a year before I became part of both a local and national circle and I still hide from these groups more than I engage with them. For those who think I’m so brave, now you know the truth. 

What I did do as soon as I recovered from surgery is start getting involved with American Cancer Society and also writing a series about my experience for West Michigan Woman. I also discovered a group called Moore Fight Moore Strong, named after Jessica Moore, a nurse and caregiver who was diagnosed with MBC at 32 and passed away after just four years. The organization’s intent is to “shine a light on the need for MBC awareness & research.” Now teamed up with METAvivor, they do this quite literally through an initiative called #LightUpMBC, which has secured landmarks around the world to light up in the MBC Awareness colors of green, pink, and teal. This year, more than 115 landmarks in all 50 states and several other countries have agreed to display these colors.

One of those is Grand Rapids’ McKay Tower, which first lit up last year at my request. They have agreed to light up again on October 13, 2020. New to our city this year is The Blue Bridge, which will light up October 10 through October 14, 2020. As you take in the beauty of these spectacles, please pause for a moment to acknowledge their purpose. The month of October is awash in pink, but MBC remains woefully underfunded. Prevention and early detection are vital, but so is the need for research, resources, and support for those already diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer.  With more awareness programs like these, we hope that this imbalance will be righted. If it happens sooner rather than later, it may just save lives—including mine. I cling to this prospect every day.    

Learn more on the METAvivor Take Action page. And, consider fundraising here or making a donation here. 100% of your donation dollars support the life-extending research needed for MBC!

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.