Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#10 in a series)
I discovered a large lump in my breast on October 14, and had a mastectomy on November 10. Two weeks later, it was time to meet with my oncologist for the first time. An oncologist. Chemotherapy. It was still difficult to fathom.
The Oncology Battle Plan
We’d had plenty of time to anticipate this appointment, and I must admit that my husband and I were a bit on edge. The doctor had set aside a full hour for this introductory visit, and we would have plenty of ground to cover. It was time to formulate phase two of the battle plan to beat cancer.
It didn’t take us long to realize that we lucked out once again and found a doctor who possessed empathy, kindness, and a willingness to answer questions in depth. Wow! He didn’t pull any punches, but just like the surgeon, Dr. G wasn’t about gloom and doom.
He began with a complete explanation of what triple-negative breast cancer is, emphasizing the fact that it generally responds well to chemotherapy. Taking into account my medical history and the pathology of the tumor, his plan called for 16 rounds of chemotherapy.
The first four rounds would be given at three-week intervals and would consist of two chemo drugs — Adriamycin and Cytoxan. That would be followed by 12 rounds of Taxotere, once a week. I would soon learn that the body doesn’t always go along with the schedule. This was going to be a long haul. Was I happy to be pouring harsh drugs into my body? No, but with everything I’d learned about triple-negative breast cancer, I felt it had to be done.
Radiation would be considered as we approached the end of chemo.
A Thing Called ‘Chemo Class’
Despite the hour-long session, Dr. G’s practice conducts “chemo class.” All patients who are about to begin chemotherapy are urged to attend. According to the nurse who led the session, since the practice implemented this educational class, they’ve cut down considerably on unnecessary trips to the ER and lots of patient angst. I can believe it.
It was a mixed group that showed up for the Monday morning session. Some brought partners, some came alone, the mood fairly serious. I’d already done my research, but nothing beats a face-to-face with a human being.
The nurse who led the class assured us that from that moment on, we could consider ourselves to be on a 24/7 clock with the doctor’s office. Day or night, someone would always be available to answer questions and guide us through our concerns. We were encouraged to be partners in our own treatment. As the months passed, I would discover that those were not empty words.
There are many different chemotherapy drugs. The drugs and the dosages are tailored to the individual’s needs and specific medical history. The list of potential side effects is seemingly endless. Some people sail through treatment with little trouble, while others suffer many side effects and become quite ill. The plan is always subject to change.
We received information about diet, rest, and exercise, and a strong encouragement to remain active and engaged. We learned simple strategies for coping with chemo’s side effects and how and when to reach out for help. (For detailed information about chemotherapy, visit The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Chemotherapy Guide for Patients and Families)
Next: The First Chemotherapy Session