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Buddy Check 12: A Sikeston woman's fight for life

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By Stephanie Byars  bio - email

SIKESTON, MO (KFVS) - Julie Heppe looks like any other proud mom, watching her 11-year-old daughter Rebecca ride horses. But this mom is a fighter.

"Breast cancer has been a common household name at our house," Heppe said. "My daughter doesn't know a time when I didn't have breast cancer."

Heppe got her first breast cancer diagnosis at 25 years old. She's been through it all. A lumpectomy, radiation, mastectomy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, recurrences and 18 years later, Heppe battles stage 4 breast cancer.

Despite it all, her friends will tell you, Heppe's never let cancer get her down.

But two years ago, she was ready to give up.

"It seems like my disease was just getting worse," Heppe said. "I wasn't getting any better. I was sick all the time. I was about ready to quit."

That's when her doctor told her about Avastin, a tumor slowing drug.

It treats advanced breast cancer that's spread to other parts of the body, like in Heppe's case, to her lungs.

Today she takes Avastin every 2 weeks and calls it a life-saver.

"It has stopped the growth of my tumor," Heppe said. "I feel like I was given my life back, I feel good again."

That's why in December, Heppe was shocked to hear that the FDA was taking Avastin off the market for use to treat advanced breast cancer.

"This is my drug, this my life," Heppe said. "This drug gave me my life back. You're going to take it from me?"

Researchers say the drug failed to extend lives in clinical trials, and it carries a small risk of devastating, sometimes deadly, side effects.

However, Heppe says she's just one of many women, who are living proof, that this drug works.

"Even if that drug gave me five months, two months, two weeks, it's given me a quality of life that cannot be measured by anything," Heppe said.  "If the FDA is able to take Avastin off the market, my quality of life will diminish."

She wants it known that her life and the lives of others battling this disease are worth fighting for.

So she's taking her fight to the web, with a blog to get her message out.

"She doesn't like a lot of attention drawn on herself, but she's come for help for her and every other woman out there that's fighting this," childhood friend Ronda Smith said.

"I want to live, I don't want cancer to decide how I feel," Heppe added.

Avastin's maker has appealed the FDA's ruling.

In the meantime, doctors can still prescribe Avastin for breast cancer patients, since approval still holds for other cancers.

However, some insurers may stop covering the drug for breast cancer.

The cost is as high as $88,000 a year out of pocket.

If you want to support Heppe's fight, find out how you can do so on her blog by clicking here.

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