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When Worst Fear Becomes Reality, Find Your Inner Strength

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When Worst Fear Becomes Reality, Find Your Inner Strength

Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#23 in a series)

“My worst fear of getting breast cancer was just about to become reality … I had a gut feeling about it.” It was quite by chance that when rubbing the skin along the edge of her bra one weekend, 41 year-old Melissa Stukenborg Paskvan felt something strange.

As she inspected further, she recalls her disbelief at the discovery of a grape-sized lump under her breast. By Monday morning she was on the phone and by Tuesday she had a mammogram. When the mammogram failed to give a detailed result, an ultrasound confirmed the presence of an ominous lump. Clearly not one to sit around wasting time, Melissa requested an immediate needle biopsy. A few days later she had an official diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer. That gut feeling was right.

One day you’re nonchalantly rubbing an itch and before you know it you’re told you have cancer. It can happen just like that. [5 Things About Breast Cancer You Should Take to Heart]

Taking on Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Melissa lost her father to melanoma, and her family history includes a maternal great aunt who had breast cancer. Asked if she was aware of triple-negative breast cancer before her own diagnosis, she replied, “No, I never heard of it. I didn’t know about different types of breast cancers.”

Treatment included a lumpectomy, chemo port surgery, eight rounds of chemotherapy, and 33 radiation treatments. Both Melissa and her doctors are optimistic about her prognosis, but she’s not taking anything for granted. A well-balanced diet and exercise have taken on greater importance.

Her doctors mentioned genetic testing to see if she carries the BRCA gene, but didn’t push the issue. After her treatment regimen was complete, she learned more about the BRCA/triple-negative breast cancer connection. She had to make a decision about genetic testing. Her health insurance would likely not pay for the expensive test, and should that test prove she carried the gene … what would she do with that information?

With no daughters, the focus would turn to aggressive tactics to avoid a recurrence of the aggressive cancer. “I didn’t want to open up that can of worms,” she says. “I’m healthy right now and why mess with that, knowing the recommended course of action is bilateral mastectomy and ovaries and tubal removal. I chose not to know.” She will, however, go along with the recommended annual ovarian ultrasound.

And There Goes the Job
The toll of cancer and treatment hits cancer patients hard. Melissa lost her job of 20 years after an extended medical leave, and her second and third jobs also “faded away,” as she put it. Cancer has crippled her financially, she says, draining the family’s savings and adding to their debt.

Health Insurance: Just When You Need it Most …
High school sweethearts, Melissa and her husband have been married for 19 years and have a nine-year old son. At diagnosis, Melissa had health insurance with a $1,500 deductible. A few months later, her deductible was raised to $3,000 and, in early 2011 to $10,000. A “pass the hat” collection raised $2,600 to help cover some deductibles and co-pays. Eventually, her husband left his job of 18 years for one that offered a better policy.

“I feel like I’m putting my health in jeopardy,” Melissa says. She sacrificed having some tests and follow up care so as not to add to the medical debt, even trying to opt out of a clinical study because her insurance did not cover all associated expenses. She will, however, continue to follow up with her chemotherapy oncologist.

Next: “I won’t back down.” / Why You Need to Learn about Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

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Read more: Cancer, Conditions, Family, General Health, Health, News & Issues, Women's Health, , , , ,

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Ann Pietrangelo

Ann Pietrangelo is the author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis and Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. She is a freelance writer and member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo

31 comments

+ add your own
10:46PM PDT on May 9, 2012

Follow me on my blog to read my journey or to find more information on Triple Negative Breast Cancer. www.mlsspaskvan.blogspot.com
Thank you Melissa

9:14PM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

Melissa, thanks for sharing your journey.
No should have to make the choice between treatment and no or reduced treatment because of cost. That is an added burden that that no one needs especially when you have family and children and exciting things you want to do. I am lucky because I live in Canada and much of my treatment, if I needed it, would be covered by provincial health insurance. The mental issues around treatment and the disease are more than enough to deal with. Thanks

11:46AM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

Thank you for sharing your story. Very inspiring.

6:37PM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

The whole insurance issue just burns me. Melissa, I'm sorry that you and so many others have had to go through that mess and cancer too. Thanks for sharing your story, Oh, and I love your triple negative breast cancer site.

Rachel

2:22PM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

Thank you all for reading my story and for your best wishes.
Wishing you all good health!
Life is good! Melissa

1:06PM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

I don't know if you can ever really be prepared.

8:39AM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

Thanks for sharing your story.

12:40AM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

Best wishes to both Melissa and Ann for their future health. After reading this, they will NEVER EVER take my (Canadian) single-payer medical system away from me!

10:38PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

thank you for sharing

7:47PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

Thank you : ) I am sure your story will save lives

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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