Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#6 in a series)
After surviving the initial tests, the diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer, and the beginnings of an action plan, Jim and I found ourselves in a holding pattern. As incongruous as it sounds, time was standing still and moving at lightening speed.
Acknowledging the Worst Case Scenario, Working Toward the Best
Having spent many years working in a funeral home, death is not a taboo subject for me. Death knows no rules about age or fairness, and it is a part of life that should not be ignored.
As we went about the details of planning for surgery, recovery, and continued treatment, we also considered the worst case scenario — not in a maudlin or overly fearful way, but for practical purposes. We would hope for, and work toward the most favorable outcome and a long life; we also acknowledged another possibility. I wanted my affairs in order; I wanted my wishes known; I felt better for having done so.
Our conversations about death did us a world of good. Because there was no pretense that the possibility didn’t exist, we were able to get to the real task at hand — living. My husband and I are positive people, and we are nothing if not warriors. We are realistic optimists, and that has always served us well.
Family and Friends Rally ‘Round
As word of my health status circulated, kindness began pouring in. Family from across the miles hit the road in order to spend time with us before surgery. We laughed and hugged, celebrating life and each other. Spirits were high, the weekend as cathartic for them as it was for me.
Friends and acquaintances, even those who were at a loss for words, sent good wishes and prayers. I assure you, the simple kindnesses go a long way.
The weight of all this on a spouse is enormous. It was probably harder to be in his shoes than in my own. He would love me no matter what, this I knew, and my many blessings made it impossible to feel sorry for myself.
Next: Sometimes Good News is Just Not Worse News / Who Gets Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?
Sometimes Goods News is Just Not Worse News
The results of the chest MRI, said Dr. M, showed a very thin layer of tissue between the tumor and the chest wall — she couldn’t say for certain until surgery, but she was very encouraged that my lung had been spared. She said my left breast was “pristine,” a delightful word if ever I heard one. The muscles on Jim’s face relaxed for the first time in days, and we put another check box in the win column.
More pre-operative tests were scheduled early the following week, and the surgery a couple of days later. Only then would we learn if the lymph nodes were similarly spared.
A Brief Period of Mourning
In my younger years, I didn’t appreciate my body or its natural beauty. By the time I hit my mid-forties, I had come to fully embrace it, flaws and all, finally seeing it for the work of art it is. I’d kept myself in pretty good shape for a 51 year-old woman with multiple sclerosis and three children. But I was about to lose a breast, and that’s not an easy thing to accept.
I dreamed about those breasts. I saw myself with both of them, then with one missing, feeling discombobulated over the loss of balance and symmetry. By the light of day, I realized that balance comes from within.
Of course I’m more than my physical body. Still, I must navigate through this life with it, and it is inextricably linked with my spirit for the time being. These breasts of mine have had a mighty good run. I would not think of it as losing a breast, but as saving my life. The ‘ole girl is taking one for the team. She’s a heroine!
I was making my peace with the changes to come. In fact, I was ready to remove the cancerous cells from my body before they could cause more harm.
The Question of Why
I was not considered at high risk for cancer, but I can’t account for environmental factors. Over the course of 51 years, it’s likely that I have been exposed to any number of chemicals and contaminants in my environment, with and without my knowledge. I will never really know why I got breast cancer; I don’t fit the general profile for triple-negative breast cancer, either. Perhaps I just pulled the short straw in a genetic quirk. The mystery will probably never be solved, but that doesn’t change anything about how I choose to deal with it.
Who Gets Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?
- Triple-negative breast cancer is more likely to occur before age 40 or 50, versus the age 60 or older that is more common for other breast cancer types.
- Triple-negative breast cancer is more likely to be found in African-American women and Hispanic women. Asian women and non-Hispanic white women are less likely to develop this type of breast cancer.
- When women with an inherited BRCA1 mutation develop breast cancer, especially before age 50, it is usually triple-negative. (Source: BreastCancer.org)
- Women who are obese and not physically active may be more likely than other women to develop triple-negative breast cancer. (Source: Susan G. Koman for the Cure)
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
Access the up-to-date Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
Author’s Note: This is article is part of 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