Lisa Quinn: Choosing to Enjoy Life Despite Metastatic Breast Cancer

Age: 39Springdale, Arkansas

I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in July 2015. I was totally devastated. But eventually, I decided that I was going to make the most of the time that I have with my husband and kids. I have been lucky that my treatments have let me do this. I am currently taking olaparib (Lynparza). It is controlling the tumors in my liver, which is the only place that I have active cancer right now. This is very exciting. I hope that olaparib will be my miracle drug and that I can continue to enjoy life with my family for a long time.

It all started three years ago. My husband and I were sitting out enjoying a nice summer evening when I felt stabbing pains in my right breast. I felt around and noticed a little hard knot on the underside of the breast.

The next morning, I called my gynecologist’s office as soon as it opened. After seeing the doctor just 45 minutes later, I went straight for a mammogram and an ultrasound. I was told then and there that I probably had breast cancer.

A biopsy confirmed the news and showed that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. Even worse, a breast MRI and a PET scan revealed seven tumors in my right breast and tumors in my bones in five places. The diagnosis was stage IV, or metastatic, breast cancer. I was shocked. I was just 36, with two young children ages 6 and 3.

A few days after the diagnosis, I had surgery to remove my ovaries because they were the main source of the estrogen that was fueling the cancer. I also started taking letrozole, which blocks estrogen production, and palbociclib (Ibrance). This controlled my cancer for more than a year.

During that year, I underwent a double mastectomy, not to help me live longer but because I could feel the tumors in my breast. I also had genetic testing for inherited cancer-associated mutations because even though I had no family history of breast cancer I was very young to be diagnosed. I learned that I have a BRCA2 mutation that increases risk for several types of cancer, including breast cancer. This means my children have a 50 percent chance of having inherited this mutation, which is the hardest thing that I’ve had to deal with through all of this.

Unfortunately, after 15 months, a PET scan showed that a tumor in my hip was no longer responding to letrozole and palbociclib. I tried several other treatments but nothing stopped the cancer for long. It even spread to my liver.

In February 2018, I started taking olaparib. It is a PARP inhibitor, a targeted treatment that had only just been approved by the FDA for treating patients with breast cancer who have inherited a BRCA mutation. It is the first treatment that has made a difference since the cancer spread to my liver. My last scan, in June 2018, showed that two of the tumors in my liver are no longer active and that the third one is half as active as it was before.

This is great news because I have been told that the only option I have after olaparib is chemo, unless new treatments come out. This makes me worry about the future. How long do I get with my children? How many birthdays do I get to see?

The worry affects my quality of life far more than physical side effects from treatment. At first, right after my diagnosis, I let my fears overcome me. I was very depressed and couldn’t do anything. But then, after starting treatment and meeting other women with the same diagnosis in person and on social media, I decided that I couldn’t let my fears stop me from enjoying life.
I chose to start living life again.

I love to go with my husband and kids to Springdale High School football games, the local pool, and my parents’ house for Sunday dinners.

I am also dedicated to raising money for metastatic breast cancer research and to advocating for those of us with the disease. Funding for research is extremely important because it is the only way to develop new treatments that will keep those of us with metastatic cancer alive. We want to live. We want to see our children grow up. We want to know they will have a better chance of overcoming this disease than we do.

The AACR was saddened to learn that Lisa Quinn passed away on August 30, 2021. We are deeply grateful to Lisa for sharing her experience with cancer in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2018 and for her efforts to support patients and caregivers and to advocate for increased funding for cancer research. We offer our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends.