‘Did You Beat Cancer?’ They Want To Know
Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#19 in a series)
You never know what’s going to happen when you find a lump in your breast. You hope it’s inconsequential because most breast lumps are. Mine turned out to be triple-negative breast cancer.
Throughout months of treatment, I remained fairly healthy, if that’s the right word for someone with multiple sclerosis and cancer. I didn’t have so much as the common cold and, aside from a few afternoon naps, never took to my bed. Oh, there were lots of symptoms and side effects, but it could have been a whole lot worse. Looking back on the last ten months, it’s hard to believe I’m on the other side of it all.
I survived finding a breast lump, informing my husband, having a mammogram, an ultrasound, a double biopsy, and the shocking diagnosis of a fast growing, very aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. I survived informing the rest of my family by long-distance.
I survived a mastectomy, the drain, the stitches, and the physical and emotional healing of losing a breast.
I survived 16 rounds of chemotherapy over six and a half months, along with the accompanying side effects, and a chemo port. I survived delays and disappointments due to poor blood work and a need to rest my tired body before slamming it again. I survived the waiting, the doctor appointments, the decision-making, and the stranger in the mirror.
I survived 30 radiation treatments, five days a week for six weeks, during the peak of summer.
I survived the haunting stories of my fellow cancer patients, and sensed the anguish behind their smiles.
I survived watching my husband bravely carry unspoken burdens on his strong shoulders. I survived because this husband and wife team is outrageously stubborn and determined. We survive because we did not stop living after diagnosis, or surgery, or chemotherapy, or radiation, or weariness, and we will never stop living as long as we’re together. Our pleasures are simple and our needs are few, but they are ours to enjoy. We will survive and thrive, together, as long as we live.
The recurrence rate with aggressive triple-negative breast cancer is higher than that of other breast cancers, at least in the first three to five years, but I face these next years knowing that I’ve had a fine medical team and good treatment. No complaints. No regrets. Much to appreciate.
There are some follow-up tests and doctor visits already on my schedule, but I’m not obsessing about recurrence. I know the main warning signs and won’t hesitate to sound the alarm, should need be.
There are no drastic life changes in the works. I already was — and still am — grateful for each day that I’m alive. Like each of you reading these words, I have no idea how long I’ll be here.
So now people are asking if the treatment worked. “Did you beat it?” they want to know. With all the doctors on my case, none of them has said, or will say, that I am cancer-free. But one and all have said that I should assume that I am … and I do.
So did I beat the cancer? Whether or not some wayward cancer cells still lie in wait, the answer is yes. Without question.
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
#17 Grieving Son Recounts Mom’s Battle with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
#18 Searching for “Normal” After Cancer
Access all posts in the Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis.” She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo