Searching for Breast Cancer’s “Extreme Survivors”

I remember the day I met Margaret “Peg” Geisler, who has now been living with breast cancer for 40 years, and with metastatic disease for 36 of those years.

She had long outlived her original oncologist, pioneering breast cancer researcher Dr. Paul P. Carbone, for whom our cancer center is named. I saw her for a colleague, her third oncologist, who was out on maternity leave.

Peg’s records showed she originally had breast cancer in 1978, it recurred in the 1980s, and she had a biopsy-proven pelvic metastasis that had been treated with radiation, but had never disappeared. She had received multiple medical treatments over the decades, including hormonal therapies and a few chemotherapies. The mass had grown slowly over the years and the most recent scan again showed a slight growth. What treatment did I recommend? I could select a number of possibilities, but, in the end, I recommended observation. Four years later, at age 82, her health is good. She attributes her survival to her “cantankerous” attitude, but everyone else describes her as charming, so I suspect another cause.

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