Many people are familiar with the movie “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” based on the book series by Ann Brashares. One pair of jeans shared by four young women is a means of keeping the friends connected as they each make their way from teenagers through young adulthood.
The “Stage 4 Traveling Pants” is a sisterhood of a different kind. These sisters span the globe. The pants they share, metaphorically, is a diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer. Stage IV means that the breast cancer has metastasized or spread throughout other parts of their body. Their individual circumstances and journeys merge in their struggle against the terminal stage of this disease.
One actual pair of jeans represents their stories. The jeans are signed with names, dates of diagnosis and words of encouragement: “Do not forget how strong we are” and “We are in this together.” Pink ribbons and charms hang from pockets and pant legs. Brightly colored bangles, baubles and hand-made pins adorn the faded blue material.
The name, “Stephanie Maltby” is stitched neatly on the front right pocket of these jeans, followed underneath by “DX: 11/17/09 Stage 4, 30 years old. Mason, MI.” Maltby’s older sister, Shannon Kegebein, from Brighton, Michigan, came up with the idea of the Stage 4 traveling pants in 2009. The pants originally belonged to Maltby. In a 2011 interview on the website, Michigan Live, Maltby said that her sister “wanted me to see other people in my shoes.”
Kelly Lange, vice president of METAvivor Research and Support for metastatic breast cancer based in Annapolis, MD, recently received the pants to be displayed for a fundraising event. The pants travel to women who were diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer before they turned 40. Shipped in a cardboard box, they were accompanied by a growing number of cards filled with well wishes and personal stories of women reaching out to others with the same diagnosis. Lange mailed the pants to Amay, Belgium. From there, they’ll travel to Geddington, UK. Since 2009, they have traveled in the US, Canada, Europe, Chile and New Zealand.
METAvivor’s mission is to raise awareness and award annual research grants for stage IV breast cancer. Based on breast cancer research studies over the past decade, the highest estimate of funding towards metastatic breast cancer research is 5 percent, whereas 30 percent of breast cancer patients metastasize. Last year, METAvivor launched a “30% for 30%” campaign to increase the funding percentage commensurate with the population percentage diagnosed with stage IV cancer.
Dian “CJ” Corneliussen-James, president and chairman of the METAvivor board, says, “It is appalling that stage IV cancer, which is responsible for 90 percent of cancer deaths overall and 100 percent of breast cancer deaths, receives so little funding.”
Corneliussen-James says METAvivor has raised at least $400,000 since 2009 for metastatic breast cancer research. For people diagnosed with stage IV like her, she states, “Our lives will never be normal again. We are in treatment for the rest of our lives and we have continuing problems with our disease.”
Kegebein, who created the idea of the traveling pants, also constructed the website Stage 4 Traveling Pants in honor of her sister, Stephanie, and by extension, all women with stage IV cancer. She wrote, “If this site..saves the life of one woman who would otherwise never do a self breast exam or discuss with their doctor the risk of breast cancer, then we did our job….” Kegebein described cancer as, “NOT PINK AND PRETTY, it’s a pair of jeans, one size does not fit all, but you are all walking in the same pair of pants.”
Article by Algerina Perna