Patients With Incurable Breast Cancer Describe Living on Borrowed Time

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When Mary Little celebrates her 50th birthday Saturday, she'll have an extra reason to enjoy the big occasion.

As a woman living with incurable cancer, she didn't expect to live past the age of 45.

At that time, she said her oncologist told her to have a "big party," as she may not be around for the next one. Little has since lived with the disease for seven years.

Her family is coming to New York City to help Little celebrate her birthday, which she told ABC's John McKenzie is a birthday that "was not supposed to happen."

Like presidential hopeful John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, who was diagnosed with a recurrence of her breast cancer, which spread to the bone, Little's cancer is in her bones, something she describes as rather painful.

"Most cancer does not hurt too much … but bone metastasis hurts a lot," she explained. "So, yes, I have to deal with chronic pain. I also have to make sure the drugs I take for pain don't kill me."

'I'm Still Here and I'm Happy'

But it's not the physical pain that's most difficult for Little -- it's the fear of living with such a deadly disease.

"Most people of a certain age don't have to ask themselves when they're going to die," she said. "If you walk into any nursing home in New York City, I'm thinking the same thoughts as every one of those people shuffling in for the five o'clock meal. They wake up each morning saying, 'Oh, my God, am I going to die this year?' I wake up every morning saying, 'Oh, my God, am I going to die this year?'"

Similarly, Randi Passoff, 57, has been living with incurable breast cancer for three years.

"When I get frightened I'm usually in the shower and I use that time to cry so that people don't know that I'm frightened or anything like that," Passoff said.

Like most patients, this Altanta resident has gone from one treatment to another. For now, her cancer is in check.

"I feel like I'm buying time so, every day, if there's a sundown or a cool breeze, it's just like 'Oh, gosh, this is wonderful,'" she said.

And that's how Mary Little has lived, to 50.

"What this birthday means to me is that I'm still here and I'm still happy, and I'm still able to say I want to celebrate, I want to be joyful, I want all of my friends in one room," Little said.

And, it's going to be one heck of a party.

For a comprehensive listing of Medicine on the Cutting Edge reports with John McKenzie, click here.

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