In Memoriam: Katherine O’Brien, A Champion for Change in Cancer Care

The MBC Alliance celebrates the life and work of member Katherine O’Brien, who passed away in June 2021 at age 55. Katherine, who lived with metastatic breast cancer for 12 years, was a beloved presence in the world of cancer care who made an indelible mark with her keen wit, insight, and tireless advocacy on behalf of others living with MBC.

While serving as a member of the MBC Alliance Executive Group as Co-Chair of the Awareness Task Force for over five years, Katherine worked relentlessly to improve the lives of people living with metastatic disease. She was the creative force behind the Alliance’s Here All Year awareness campaign, which emphasized that while October is breast cancer awareness month, people live with MBC year-round – and public education and advocacy must keep pace. Here All Year helped bridge this gap by exploring a new topic around metastatic breast cancer each month, raising awareness and sharing facts and resources with patients, caregivers and the public.

Diagnosed with de novo metastatic disease in 2009, Katherine built a huge community on social media who valued her work as a patient advocate, blogger, essayist, reporter and mentor. With passion and sly humor, she started a national conversation about the insensitivity of bell ringing ceremonies at cancer clinics to mark the end of therapy for patients with early-stage disease – a widespread practice that made for feel-good news coverage, but overlooked the perspective of metastatic patients who will receive therapy for the rest of their lives.

Katherine also made a notable mark on cancer research by spearheading the creation of an online petition on in 2015 to ask the National Cancer Institute to fully count all metastatic breast cancer recurrences in the United States, rather than recording only de novo metastatic disease – a number that did not include the vast majority of incidences.

Garnering over 12,000 signatures, in 2017 the petition helped convince the NCI to update its practices and database to accurately reflect the total number of people living with MBC in the United States. This work, begun in earnest in 2021, paves the way for more research funding for metastatic disease.

Katherine’s keen wit and generous friendship will be sorely missed by the Alliance community. We are forever grateful for her insight, dedication, leadership, and tireless advocacy to improve the lives of people living with MBC.