Breast Cancer Treatment: Weighing Reward and Risk

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

When you receive a diagnosis of any type of cancer, there are three important things you must do to be a successful partner in your own health care.

  1. Seek out health care professionals who have empathy and whom you can trust.
  2. Ask questions, research, learn, and ask more questions.
  3. Make carefully-weighed decisions. Lots of them.

Decisions, Decisions, and more Decisions. Reward and Risk. Decisions regarding breast cancer treatment can be confusing and intimidating. It is wise to seek out the opinions of doctors. It is fair to request and welcome input of trusted family members and friends. But ultimately, these decisions belong to the patients, for we must be able to live with them.

How many decisions have I made since finding that breast lump last October? I’ve lost count. From deciding not to hesitate, but to see a doctor immediately, to following a fast track course to diagnosis, to consciously accepting the medical team that seemed to form itself around me, the decisions came quickly, but not without careful consideration.

Lumpectomy or mastectomy? Reconstructive surgery or prosthetic breast? Chemotherapy? Chemo port? Radiation? Drugs to combat individual symptoms or side effects? Complementary or alternative treatment? Diet, rest, exercise, general lifestyle, patient support groups, clinical trials… not to mention matters regarding employment, health insurance, and family and social obligations… it’s enough to make your head spin.

Even after all treatment appears to be over and done with, I’ll have to decide what kind of life I want to live. Do I want a lot of follow-up testing to reassure myself, or will I take a more relaxed approach and keep things simple, as my doctors seem to suggest? I believe I’ll choose the latter, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that all plans are subject to change.

Next: Decisions come with consequences and sometimes uncomfortable reactions

Yes, we patients must live with our choices. We also must live with other people’s reactions to those choices, and that’s sometimes a challenge. As a health writer, I share my own medical conditions and report on health news in general, but that doesn’t make me a medical professional, so I never endorse or recommend health care decisions for others. My decisions are based on my life circumstances alone, and I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone else what to do, other than to reinforce the idea of careful consideration.

Many readers who happen upon my work are wary of the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies. Hey, I get that because I’ve got a healthy dose of skepticism myself, earned from a few hard knocks along the way. But I don’t discount modern medicine, in fact I’m counting on it.

It’s been difficult for me to share some of my medical choices, knowing they would be judged, particularly when it came to chemotherapy. But I did the research, consulted knowledgeable doctors, and having my complete medical profile to work with, weighed the potential rewards and risks.

By the end of this month, I’ll be meeting with another specialist regarding radiation therapy. No concrete decision will be made until that meeting takes place, but my oncologist consulted with other doctors and made a very sound case based on a thorough study of the position and the pathology of the cancerous tumor that attacked my breast. It’s important to remember that not all cancers, and certainly not all breast cancers are alike. Details matter, not only the medical details, but quality-of-life details, and age, and state-of-mind. It all matters.

My celebratory mood at ending more than six months of chemotherapy has been dampened by the thought of the fairly grueling schedule likely to come next. Who doesn’t fear radiation? Who the heck wants to make such a decision? Not me. But make it I will. And I will share that decision here in the hopes that readers understand that it is my personal decision, not a blanket endorsement for any particular course of treatment for others.

Decisions, decisions, and more decisions. Reward and risk. We do what we think is right for ourselves and our families, what we think we can own up to as we travel the tentative road that lies ahead. Now that I think about it, that about sums up life in general.

Coming Soon: Breast Cancer Survivor Profiles
If you’re a triple-negative breast cancer survivor and you’d like to share your story, email

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

Access all posts in the Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series

Take Action! Sign the petition: We can end breast cancer by 2020

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



A Marina Fournier

I have had two friends who were dx'd with cervical cancer, and I told them I'd be happy to go with them to any appointments, for support, and to help speak for them, to ask questions I don't hear them ask, to keep the doctor on track or from treating my friend as an idiot or uneducated about her condition. That way, she could go into overwhelm and clearer-headed me could take over getting the information needed.

It was something I knew I could do, that might come in useful.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Anja N.
Justin R8 years ago

Thank you Ann - you give courage to many!

Diane W.
Diane Weber8 years ago

My story is much like the others good to know their are so many others had the same doubts, the treatment not knowing if it will work, sick from the treatment, tired all the time, financially crippled,cost of the medications asking do I eat or take one of many medications,friends who disappear because they are afraid you may ask for help, trying to still be mom, state agencies that won't help even though you've worked 36 years saving other lives as an RN and over that period paid thousands into the state and federal govt. One thing that keeps have way seen is the support and understanding from the various cancer foundation, All can say is God Bless them and pray they are spared, they truly make a difference. Diane


I just wanted to add a commment, from someone who has not, as yet, been diagnosed with cancer, but it seems that nearly all the women I know seem to have had cancer and they are THRIVING!!! ( and cancer in my imediate family!) They all, as far as I can remember, have had chemo and all the other medical treatment and then have gone totally healthy, with organic food and meditation and done positive things to stay healthy and although the stats for cancer deaths sound pretty terrible.. You consider how many more people survive!! Iknew one lady who had a mastectomy when she was forty and lived to be ninety!! ( and that was WAY back when medicine was not what it is today!) There seems to have been a lot of work done on 'cellular memory" ( look it up in your search engine) which seems to be the latest thing in stopping recurrence of cancer and the new drugs been trialled in the UK that are meant to stop rogue cells in their tracks in secondary cancers, are meant to be on the market in about two years!
It is all very positive and I send my love and prayers and message of love and hope to all of you who are trying to decide what path to take in your cure.

Natalie Scerri
Natalie S8 years ago

May you gain strength of body and mind from day to day. Good luck with your decision-making, don't lose courage now that you have already come so far. Even if the future looks somewhat dim, remember that we only have to live one day at a time. Looking forward to your contributions.

angela maffi
angel m8 years ago

Thanks, everything so true.

Maria Dolores Staubli

Thank you very much ! ..*-*..

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B8 years ago

Noted with thanks.