LIVINGSTON, NJ – At the culmination of Cancer Research Month, declared as May 2019 in the Township of Livingston, Tami Eagle Bowling addressed the township about how her experience living with metastatic breast cancer inspired her to launch METAvivors of NJ—a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of advanced breast cancer and equity in research and patient support.
Thanks to Bowling’s efforts, Livingston Mayor Al Anthony became the 21st mayor in New Jersey to issue an official proclamation declaring May as Cancer Research Month and to promote public awareness specifically related to metastatic cancer research.
“About six years ago, I went to the hospital for one of the most joyous moments of my life: to deliver my baby girl—and I never imagined that I would have to live my life wondering whether I would be alive to see her grow up,” she said. “Four years ago, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I try to education people on what metastatic means because I, myself, had no idea when I was diagnosed. Essentially, the cancer has left the primary organ and has traveled elsewhere in your body, which makes it a Stage IV incurable cancer.”
After being diagnosed, Bowling said she was shocked to learn that only 5 percent of U.S. breast cancer research dollars go toward funding for Stage IV treatment. She also learned that only 24 percent of people diagnosed with Stage IV cancer make it five years, and that only 10 percent make it 10 years.
“Most of the emphasis is place on early detection, vaccines and saving the future, which is great, but there are more and more people (and young people) being affected with Stage IV and there are not enough treatment options,” she said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that even with early detection—those women diagnosed with Stage I, II or III—30 percent of those will become Stage IV, and then there will be not enough treatment options. So that’s why the metastatic community believes that it’s so important to raise that 5 percent to at least 30 percent of all funding for metastatic treatment research.”
Bowling said that she has met a lot of different people throughout her journey, but that it was one woman in particular who inspired her to start doing something to make a difference. When the 35-year-old woman who had become Bowling’s best friend in the metastatic community died last month, leaving behind a three-year-old daughter, Bowling decided to launch METAvivors of NJ in her memory.
According to Bowling, METAvivors of NJ now has more than 300 members on Facebook who are not only survivors, but also friends and family of those affected by metastatic breast cancer who want to get involved and take action.
In addition to recognizing the founding of the New Jersey chapter of METAvivors, the township also took the opportunity shortly after National Women’s Health Week to recognize breast cancer as the most common type of cancer among women as well as the second-leading cause of death.
“Every one of us probably knows people that have suffered from cancer and have battled with it and it’s something that if we could find the research to do away with it, we would be a much better society and a lot of our prayers would be answered.”
Bowling thanked the Township of Livingston helping to bring awareness to this issue, stating that funding is the end goal, but that awareness needs to come first.
She showed her gratitude by providing Anthony with a special pin that resembled the familiar breast cancer ribbon with its pink overlay, but also featured the color teal to represent “spirituality and healing” as well as green to symbolize a healthy lifestyle.
In addition to asking the public to be conscious of the many people out there who are living with “invisible illnesses,” Bowling also spread some words of encouragement by addressing the three bracelets she wears on her wrist: one that reminds her to “never give up,” one that reminds her to face life “one day at a time” and one that reminds her to “live happy.”
“I think that the silver lining of having a cancer diagnosis is the crystal clear clarity in which I see the importance of family, friends and the ability to find gratitude despite this diagnosis every single day,” she said. “I encourage all of you to do that as well—to work hard and to find gratitude no matter what challenges you have, because I do believe that that’s the key to happiness.”
Bowling founded METAvivors along with her fellow Scotch Plains resident Lauren O’Brien. Visit https://www.metavivor.org/ to learn more.