Grieving Son Recounts Mom’s Battle with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

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.”

photo courtesy of Joseph P

“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.”

  • Mammograms

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

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

Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo


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Mary T.
Mary T.2 years ago

Remember to get your mammograms

Christina B.
Christina B.4 years ago

Thank you for this post. I really needed to read it. I have found myself in a similar situation as Joseph and his mother's blog provided me with a sense of support I had not felt before in these awful last 2,5 years. I was under the impression that everything worked out in the end, I'm genuinely sorry that was not the case. May she rests in peace...

I too have a family member battling cancer. The horrible feeling that I'm not doing enough to help is eating me from the inside... But I am about to change it.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance4 years ago

Here I am at midnight re-reading Joseph's story of losing his mother to breast cancer and a statement he made hit me between the eyes!

" . . . 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. . . . "

In my original comments I said "It is this other side of cancer, the effect it has on others, that we often don't see, or at least don't recognise early enough . . . " and I truly believe this. In Joseph's case, this other side of cancer has produced what I believe is a passionate young man just hitting his stride. And that is something to celebrate.

Joseph, I believe things have worked out in the end. The world has a passionate advocate for people and their families who struggle daily with disease. Your mother will always be with you in your heart, influencing you and urging you on. And she is no longer in pain.

You are in my praters.

Anja N.
Justin R.4 years ago

Thank you to Ann and Joseph.

Vicky Locke
Vicky Locke4 years ago

Dear Joseph, I am so sorry for your tremendous loss, and thank you for both sharing part of your journey with us and extending your support for those in need. What a great way to honor your mother!

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance4 years ago


. . . and she has been put in care.

As Ann P has said before, and Joseph has now said, early detection is very important. As Christa L has noted below, there are natural ways to treat cancer. I wonder about her suggestions as a preventative path so I am going to look at that, not that I have cancer, but I've seen enough of it in my father's side of the family. I also try to keep mentally active as my mother is the 3rd generation with Alzeimer's on her side of the family.

Ultimately, the decision on chemo, radiation, surgery, or all natural is a personal one and belongs to no person but the patient, in consultation with their family and medical team.

Thank you Joseph for sharing your feelings and story. And thank you Ann for continuing to share your journey.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance4 years ago

I can feel Joseph's pain and have great sympathy and empathy for him, and all others who travel this rutted, stoney dirt road.

My stepfather died in March 2004 after a 3 year battle with colon cancer. He wanted to die at home and he did. Unfortunately, his cancer is still affecting the family. My mother, who looked after him faithfully the entire time, developed Alzheimer's. Nobody suspected what was happening to her. The stress of dealing with his cancer accelerated her own problems. She remarried several years later but her 3rd husband went into hospital and died on their 7 month wedding anniversary after 3 months in hospital. She spent every day, a minimum of 10 hours a day, at his bedside. This stress accelerated the Alzheimer's even more and put her totally over the edge. While she is now in care and very happy at least, I am her sole caregiver (outside the care centre) and I am taking particular care not to let her disease stress me out but it is hard sometimes.

It is this other side of cancer, the effect it has on others, that we often don't see, or at least don't recognise early enough because we chalk it up to stress and grief.

In 2007, two days after being diagnosed with cancer, my father passed away. He told me he just couldn't cope with it. I think he knew he had cancer as he was in a lot of pain, but he was so caught up in looking after his wife who also has Alzheimer's, that he ignored his own pain. Now he can't look after her and she has be

Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez4 years ago

very sad! my heart goes out to him

Dakota Payne
Dakota Payne4 years ago

Thank you for being such a loving and supportive son. My mom has Lupus and Graves disease and I have watched it reak havoc on her life and body for many years. I hope we can bring awareness, much needed awareness to these diseases and hopefully help in getting more scientist on the job to find some cures!!

Arlene Esan
Ame Esan4 years ago

Thoughts and prayers going to the family.