We’re midway through the middle of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Thanks to an increase in awareness campaigns over the last 35 years, public knowledge about the disease has increased. Perhaps lesser known, though, is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, which falls on Oct. 13. 

Metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage IV breast cancer, is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body outside of the breast. 

Approximately 250,000 Americans are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, with between 7,500 and 15,000 of them identified as being initially metastatic. While many treatments for breast cancer exist, once the cancer metastasizes, there is no cure. 

For Celeste Lawson (pictured left), who is a substitute teacher in the Des Moines area, this issue became personal when her mother, Lois E. Spinks-Lawson (pictured right), was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and lost her battle with the disease on Jan. 19, 2019. 

“Anyone who knew my mother knows that she was a very strong-willed individual. She did everything she could to combat the effects of metastatic breast cancer, even though there is no cure,” Lawson said. 

Black women in particular are disproportionately affected. While white women have the highest incidence rates, Black women have the highest death rates. Breast cancer is also more likely to be found at an earlier stage in white women than in Black women. 

“I had not heard of metastatic breast cancer prior to my mother falling ill with it, and I was not aware of the devastating impact it has on women of color, particularly African American/Blacks, and women who live in rural Iowa where health care is more of a challenge,” Lawson said.

She decided to do something about it. Lawson first reached out to her state representative with ideas to raise awareness about metastatic breast cancer and the effect it has on women of color and women in rural areas. 

Lawson worked with the Iowa Legislative Black Caucus and developed a house resolution for Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, which was ultimately sidelined due to COVID-19. She then turned to Gov. Kim Reynolds, who signed a Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day proclamation on Oct. 1, declaring Oct. 13, 2020, as Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day in Iowa. 

Lawson and Reps. Ruth Ann Gaines and Phyllis Thede recorded a video reading the proclamation, which was posted to the Susan G. Komen of Greater Iowa’s Facebook page

She hopes to continue working with the Iowa Legislative Black Caucus to make it an annual observance in the state. 

“We need to reduce, and hopefully negate, the impact of metastatic breast cancer, especially the disproportionate impact it is having on African American/Black women. The first step, it seems to me, is raising awareness of the illness. To that end, there is much yet to do.”