Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#1 in a series)
My left hand brushed over the top of my right breast and landed on a lump. I wasn’t performing a breast self-exam. I was simply changing my clothes, but there it was. The lump that would change everything.
Just as we remember where we were and what we were doing when President Kennedy was shot or when we heard a plane smashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York, I’ll always remember that moment on Thursday, October 14, 2010 when I came face-to-face with the cancer that would do its best to kill me.
I’m very much in tune with my body and was certain this lump had not been around long. I would have felt it. I would have known… wouldn’t I? How fast can these things grow? I ran my fingers around the entire breast, then repeated on the left side, discovering nothing else of concern.
I did not jump to the conclusion that this lump equaled breast cancer. I thought it was more likely something else — blocked ducts, some kind of infection, a harmless cyst. I was tired and wanted to crawl into bed, and easily brushed thoughts of the lump aside in favor of a good night’s sleep. I was convinced it would be gone in the morning and I’m not one to get all worked up over nothing.
Breast Cancer Fact: Most Biopsies are Noncancerous
As many as four out of five breast lumps that are biopsied are benign — that means they are noncancerous. You should consult a doctor if:
- A breast lump is new or unusual and feels different from breast tissue in either breast
- A new breast lump doesn’t go away after your next period
- A breast lump seems to have changed — it gets bigger, for instance
- You have bloody discharge from your nipple
- You notice skin changes on your breast, such as redness, crusting, dimpling or puckering
- Your nipple suddenly turns inward (inversion)
(Source: Mayo Clinic)
Sleep came easily and, when I awoke, the lump didn’t even enter my mind — until I rediscovered the ominous thing while showering.
Left to my own devices, I would most likely have waited several more days in the hope that it would clear up before reaching out to a doctor. But I have a husband who has seen me through years of issues with multiple sclerosis (MS), and if he knew about this lump, he’d want immediate action. That prompted me to make a doctor’s appointment before broaching the subject with him. I was surprised and pleased that our long-time general physician had an opening on Monday.
Not soon enough for hubby. When we met in the kitchen for lunch, I broke the news, “Hon, I don’t want you to get all bent out of shape about this, okay? I already have an appointment with Dr. R on Monday.” His face immediately registered concern. “It’s probably nothing, but I have a lump on my breast.”
I unbuttoned my blouse and led his hand to the lump, although it was not difficult to locate. His face froze as he felt the size of the invader, saying in no uncertain terms, “Call the doctor back. We’re going in today!”
It happened to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I was on board for the cause. On September 27, I posted a call to action to Blog For Your Breasts. On October 4, I wrote that Breast Cancer is Not Just for Women. The following day, I questioned the effectiveness of the I Like It on the Kitchen Table campaign, and on October 19, I shared Dr. Hilda Hutcherson’s suggestions for Three Lifesaving Tests for Women, one of which is the mammogram.
During that same time period, I celebrated my 51st birthday in the best health I’d enjoyed in years. My MS had been in remission since April. The frequent relapses that plagued me since 2003 had all but disappeared for reasons still unknown, and I was enjoying an unprecedented run of vibrant health, thanking the universe and proclaiming this good news to all who would listen. My cane, my handicapped parking placard, and other MS-related items fell into a state of disuse, and I was taking full advantage of the situation.
I felt good… really good. Over the course of the summer I even managed to dance, joining the conga line at a wedding and moving to the beat of some old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, pleasures I’d been unable to experience for a very long time.
Just as you might expect from a soap opera script, this unprecedented run of physical strength preceded bad news. So I’m glad I danced. I’m glad I giggled and sang and celebrated and appreciated, because I was about to embark on a very difficult, but enlightening journey.
Author’s Note: This is the opening entry in a series chronicling my first-hand patient perspective of life with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Without being overly self-indulgent, I hope to convey the raw emotion that comes with such a diagnosis… and the process of living with and beyond it. Entries will appear in Care2 Causes and in Care2 Healthy & Green Living. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo
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