This October I’m celebrating the second anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. Just to be clear, it’s not the disease I’m celebrating, but the fact that I’m still here two years later.
October is a big month for me. It’s the month I discovered a lump in my breast and the month in which I learned what that lump meant. It’s the month I celebrate my birthday, and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
From finding that lump in my breast to hearing about triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) for the first time, to treatment to recovery and to every emotion known to womankind, these two years have passed at both a snail’s pace and at lightening speed, if you can wrap your head around that. That’s what happens when you’re fighting for your life.
Days of research and illness and fighting the temptation to give in to fatigue seem to blur together as if in a dream. Only by going back and reading the journal I kept at the time am I able to recall the finer details of those bittersweet days. Life goes on.
I no longer think about cancer every day, at least not my own cancer. I think about others who are still in the thick of things. I think about other women facing the diagnosis of breast cancer and TNBC in particular. I think of all the women who, like me, had never heard about TNBC until they were diagnosed.
Another anniversary, another birthday, another Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Another chance to remind women about the importance of being familiar with your own body. The good news is that most breast lumps are benign. Of those that are not, advances in treatment mean more of us go on to celebrate more birthdays.
I hate it when people reduce breast cancer to talking about boobs, boobies, and tatas. I’m sick of pink ribbons and pink bras and pink consumerism. Just as with other forms of cancer, breast cancer is about life and death.
Instead of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I think of it more as Birthday Awareness Month. I’m celebrating by making the most of what life has to offer, trying not to focus on the negative and savoring the positive. Thank you to all the people — doctors, nurses, readers, acquaintances, friends, and family — for your part in helping me to put another candle on my birthday cake. It is a happy birthday, indeed.
Next Page: What is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?
Photo Copyright: Zoonar/Thinkstock
The breast cancer awareness campaign has been incredibly successful. In the last several decades, we’ve learned about risk factors, the importance of early diagnosis, and an array of treatment options. But a lot of people still do not realize that all breast cancers are NOT alike. It comes in many forms and variations.
At the time of diagnosis, the size and location of the tumor(s), whether or not the cancer has spread, and the grade (the aggressiveness) of the tumor(s) all affect the potential treatments and recovery times. Each case of breast cancer, each human being involved, has a unique set of circumstances.
What is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?
When breast cancer cells test negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and HER2 receptors, it is called triple-negative. This type of breast cancer:
- represents about 10 to 20 percent of all breast cancers
- is usually diagnosed in women before age 40 or 50
- is more common among African-American or Hispanic women, or women who carry the BRCA1 gene mutation
- does not respond to the hormonal therapies used for other types of breast cancer
- tends to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer
- is more likely to spread
- is more likely to recur after treatment is completed – this risk is greatest in the first three to five years and levels off after that period
- has a lower five-year survival rate than other types of breast cancer
- is usually a higher grade than other breast cancers (the higher the grade, the less the cancer cells look like normal breast cells)
- is treatable and beatable
Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series