Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#17 in a series)
After fighting triple-negative breast cancer for a year-and-a-half, 57 year-old Carmelita P died as she lived, with her faith intact and her loving family by her side. Her son graciously shares her story in the hope of educating and supporting families coping with similar circumstances.
Joseph P was 25 years-old when his mother went in for a routine mammogram. As a nurse, Carmelita took annual mammograms seriously. This one was anything but routine and she was soon diagnosed with stage IIa triple-negative breast cancer.
Now 29, Joseph, a Strategic Marketing and Partnerships advisor for nonprofits, does not mince words when speaking of his family’s ordeal, his love for his mother, and his feelings of loss.
“We did not immediately fear the worst.”
With no history of cancer in the family, they had never even heard of triple-negative breast cancer. “I thought breast cancer was breast cancer and was not aware that there were different types,” says Joseph. “With my Mom being a nurse, she may have been aware of it, though she did not speak about it specifically.”
“We did not immediately fear the worst. In fact, it was the exact opposite. When you hear about breast cancer, the perception is that it is highly treatable and easily defeated. With the tremendous amount of awareness, thousands of walks, and countless survivor stories you hear, breast cancer is made to sound like something you beat. Just another one of life’s roadblocks that people magically overcome and grow stronger from. The other side of the story is rarely told. The ugly side. The story of those who have lost loved ones. The danger, seriousness, and viciousness of this disease is the part I never heard.”
“We were on the road to recovery and normalcy.”
“We didn’t think it would be an easy process to treat her cancer, but we always ‘knew’ she would get cured. If so many women beat it, then why not her?”
Carmelita’s treatment included a mastectomy, followed by radiation, then chemotherapy. Believing that she did, in fact, beat cancer, the family celebrated after her final treatment, relieved to be among those who survived the disease. “We were on the road to recovery and normalcy.”
When a string of migraines landed Carmelita in the emergency room, the family learned her cancer was back with a vengeance — in her brain, liver, and spine, among other places.
Next: “We coped with it the only way we could.” / Profound Changes
“We coped with it the only way we could.”
“It was devastating. It was torture to see her go through that pain and not be able to do anything. From losing her hair, to having trouble walking, swollen joints, and every other side-effect that occurred, it was the ultimate feeling of helplessness.
“We coped with it the only we could — being strong and having faith that everything would be okay. We had as much support as we could have asked for from family, friends, medical staff, etc. Within six months it took her from us.”
A Profound Change in Perspective
I asked Joseph if his experiences with triple-negative breast cancer changed his philosophy of life at all.
“Absolutely — it changed everything. It took my Mom away. It was a life-changing experience. You always hear ‘life is short’ and ‘appreciate what you have,’ but losing my Mom in this way really put all of that in perspective. Things that before appeared so urgent and important, either professionally or personally, now were just petty … to worry about all of these little things that at the end of day don’t matter. It made me stop and re-evaluate everything. I changed professions because of it — left the corporate world for the nonprofit sector.
“There is also a ‘loss of innocence’ that I cannot explain and is only truly understood by those who have suffered similar tragedies. I always believed in life that ‘things will work out in the end’ or things will always ‘turn out for the best.’ This was my first time learning that it’s not always the case. The worst possible outcome that you fear most can come true. Bad things do happen to good people.”
Reliving his mother’s struggle and sharing his feelings on the subject has not been easy. “Even saying it out loud now, it sounds so negative and cynical, but those who know me know I am a positive and fun-loving person. That will not change, and my Mom would not want that to change. But I do have a different reality now than before. Going through this type of pain changes you.”
“Capture more memories.”
Joseph has some advice for families dealing with cancer right now. “Take pictures. Shoot video. Capture more memories. I wish I took more pictures and video, but I didn’t, because doing so felt like I would be admitting there was a chance she would not beat it. Why take more pictures and video than normal? Why act as if you will never see her again, when you KNOW you will see her again?”
Next: Heartfelt Advice / A Generous Offer of Support
Be Your Own Best Health Advocate
- Self Advocate
Joseph believes his mother received good care, but if he had it to do again, he would have urged her to get into a clinical trial if at all possible.
“Early detection is important, but be vigilant in checking for recurrences. Perhaps be even more thorough and proactive in making sure it doesn’t return. REGARDLESS of what your doctors tell you. It is your health.
“I hope that you will never have to go through what we went through. Triple-negative breast cancer is an angry disease. Fight it with everything and anything you can — with both conventional and non-conventional treatments — do whatever it takes and whatever you think will work for you.”
From The American Cancer Society: The goal of screening exams, such as mammograms, is to find cancers before they start to cause symptoms. Most doctors feel that early detection tests for breast cancer save many thousands of lives each year, and that many more lives could be saved if even more women and their health care providers took advantage of these tests.
- Know Your Own Body
From The American Cancer Society: Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any new breast changes to a health professional as soon as they are found. Finding a breast change does not necessarily mean there is a cancer.
A Generous Offer of Support
Joseph has a special email address for those who wish to contact him about this story or those who are in need of support. That email address is ThankYouMom912@gmail.com
Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
#1 The Lump in my Breast: Meeting the Enemy
#2 Most Breast Lumps are Non-Cancerous: Would mine be?
#3 The Mammogram, the Ultrasound, and ‘the Look’
#4 The Biopsy and Breast Cancer Confirmation
#5 A New Twist: It’s Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
#6 Before the Mastectomy: Planning for the Future
#7 Mastectomy Day: What it’s like to lose a breast
#8 After the Mastectomy: Unveiling and Staging
#9 10 Odd Things to Say to Someone with Breast Cancer
#10 Cancer Battle Plan Phase 2: Chemotherapy
#11 5 Things I Love About my Very Expensive Health Insurance
#12 10 Simple Gestures of Kindness with Healing Power
#13 Half a Year on Chemotherapy and Taking Nothing for Granted
#14 Breast Cancer Treatment: Weighing Reward and Risk
#15 The Radiation Decision, The Long Road, The Badge of Honor
#16 The Healing Power of Nurses
Access all posts in the Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
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