Shining the Spotlight on Metastatic Breast Cancer
Cynthia Newsome thought her cancer journey was over. Diagnosed in 2011 with triple-negative breast cancer, she had eight rounds of chemotherapy, 33 radiation treatments and a lumpectomy. The day of her last treatment, she walked into her workplace, the newsroom of Kansas City television station KSHB 41.
“People were cheering like I’d crossed a finish line! How amazing is that? I’ll never forget the feeling,” Cynthia said.
Seven years passed. In February 2019, just seven months after a routine mammogram, Cynthia felt a lump in her left breast. Follow-up tests revealed the breast cancer had returned and metastasized, or spread, to other parts of her body. At the urging of her friends and family, she sought a second opinion at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the region.
“People fly to The University of Kansas Cancer Center for treatment,” Cynthia said. “And I was 20 minutes away.”
Cynthia saw Priyanka Sharma, MD, a physician-scientist and international expert in Cynthia’s cancer subtype, triple-negative breast cancer. One of the rarest types of breast cancer, it represents about 15% of all breast cancers. It derives its name from the lack of receptors for estrogen, progesterone and HER2. Cynthia— who had interviewed Dr. Sharma for a news story in 2016— was struck by Dr. Sharma’s interest to understand every aspect of her cancer, including scrutinizing tissue samples that had been collected years earlier.
“She wanted to know everything about these tumors,” Cynthia said. “It wasn’t just ‘here’s the plan’ from her. She told me what she was doing, why she was doing it and we talked through it together.”
A combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy shrunk Cynthia’s tumors, except for one. The two discussed a mastectomy to remove the stubborn tumor, and Dr. Sharma consulted the cancer center’s tumor board. A tumor board is a group of doctors and other experts with different specialties that meets to discuss specific cases. The group pored over Cynthia’s scans and tests and discovered a mastectomy would not solve the issue. The tumor was located above the chest wall and under her breast. While disappointed to hear the tumor was inoperable, Cynthia was grateful she was spared an unnecessary and major procedure.
“Dr. Sharma is a straight-shooter, very focused. I like that,” Cynthia said. “I’m not just being treated for cancer here. Dr. Sharma and others on my medical team recognize we are still living our lives.”
A decade ago, Dr. Sharma established a triple-negative breast cancer registry with the goal of gathering clinical information and blood and tumor samples from patients with this type of cancer. About 1,200 patients, including Cynthia, have participated in the registry. The registry is open at eight cancer center locations and Masonic Cancer Alliance sites across the Kansas City metropolitan area and rural Kansas. Anyone with triple-negative breast cancer may participate.
Dr. Sharma is a straight-shooter, very focused. I like that. I’m not just being treated for cancer here. Dr. Sharma and others on my medical team recognize we are still living our lives. Cynthia Newsome, 41 Action News anchor and metastatic breast cancer patient
“Each patient holds unique information about their individual disease, but most people with cancer do not participate in clinical trials because they do not have access or the eligibility criteria are too narrow. The broad patient population in the registry gives researchers a panoramic view of triple-negative breast cancer,” Dr. Sharma said. “With the participation of patients like Cynthia, every finding leads to a better understanding of triple-negative breast cancer and informs the development of novel trials with the eventual hope of bringing improved treatments to our patients in the clinic.”
When Cynthia talks about her cancer experience, she asserts she’s never been alone in her journey. Her husband, Ed Newsome, has remained by her side.
“My husband says, ‘the cancer is in your body, but we both have breast cancer,” Cynthia said. “Our bond is so strong.”
She also leans on her faith, friends and community. After a treatment round, Cynthia’s friend came over and started sweeping her kitchen floor. A sense of humor also helps. One evening, while Cynthia and Ed lay in bed, she started to cry about losing her hair. Ed remarked that he, too, was losing his hair.
“I will never forget that. I went from being on the verge of crying to laughing out loud,” Cynthia said.
Make a difference
Cynthia has been in broadcasting for more than 40 years. She recently celebrated 25 years anchoring and reporting at KSHB 41. Her career has centered on asking others to share their story. Since receiving her initial diagnosis 10 years ago, she has paid it forward by increasing awareness about breast cancer and speaking about her own experience.
With the participation of patients like Cynthia, every finding leads to a better understanding of triple-negative breast cancer and informs the development of novel trials with the eventual hope of bringing improved treatments to our patients in the clinic. Priyanka Sharma, MD
Together, Cynthia and Ed created Newsome’s House Calls, a 30-day campaign emphasizing the importance of regular mammograms and self-exams. Their work featuring the stories of those with breast cancer earned her the Komen Kansas City Legacy Award in 2017. Cynthia and one of her team members received the American Association for Cancer Research 2020 June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism-Television for their work highlighting the stories of women with metastatic breast cancer. She received the Bloch Cancer Survivorship Award in 2016.
Awesome Ambitions, a program Cynthia founded in 1997, prepares girls in 8th through 12th grade for college and a career. Awesome Ambitions girls are challenged to identify a cause they care about and work together to provide solutions. According to Cynthia, life is about making a difference ― from sharing stories to participating in Dr. Sharma’s registry to helping young girls in the community.
“My job as an anchor, as well as my support system, has allowed me to educate others through storytelling,” Cynthia said. “I share my story because, if I can help somebody, then I should."