Maria Fowler

I was diagnosed with a very rare form of breast cancer, metaplastic breast cancer, in 2012. At the time I had never heard of it, and in fact I was unaware that there were different kinds of breast cancer. I was fortunate in that my doctor had seen a case of it before; some doctors never see this type of cancer in an entire career.

Being the daughter of a nurse, I was a good patient and followed all of the advice of my medical team, lumpectomy, chemotherapy (dose dense ACT [Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Taxol]), and radiation. However, in just a few short weeks after completion of my treatment, I found a new lump. This time I had a mastectomy with reconstruction and more chemotherapy.

If I had never had that second lump, I probably would have gone on with my life and tried to forget the whole ordeal, but because I had such a quick return of the cancer, I began to look for more answers. One need I immediately recognized was the lack of easy to understand information on the web. Much of what was available was very scary research articles. So, I began my advocacy career by creating a website, From there I was being contacted by women who wanted support and so a Facebook support group was founded. Besides working in the patient community, I felt like there was no voice for metaplastic breast cancer patients in the medical and research communities. So, I began looking for opportunities to interact with researchers and medical professionals to let them know we needed our own standard of care.

It was during this time that I was told about the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program. I jumped at the chance to participate with the research community and to give a voice to women with this rare disease. The incredible thing about research today is that I don't have to only focus on this small segment of the breast cancer landscape to make a difference. With personalized medicine and immunotherapy at the forefront of research, there are opportunities for all breast cancer patients to benefit from the right research being funded.

The opportunity to both educate and learn from the men and women on the frontlines of cancer research has been an incredible experience. Giving a voice to women and men affected by this disease has been a great honor and one I take very seriously during peer review panels. Money is so tight that it has become crucial for everyone to join together to closely dissect which applications have the greatest chance of success but also the greatest chance to impact real lives.

There is a lot of work involved with each panel, but whenever I am asked, I always accept the challenge and do my best to honor all of those who have suffered with this disease. Hopefully one day I will know I was able to play a role in helping save lives through this process.

Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022