On Tuesday, July 10th, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host a free Community Meeting addressing the diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer. In preparation for that event, LBBC would like to introduce Jeanette Caligiuri, co-founder of Faith & Hope Boutique and an eloquent triple negative breast cancer survivor.
I am sure we all vividly remember the day that our lives changed forever when our worst fears were confirmed; “I am so sorry…you have breast cancer.” I wish I could say I was stunned or shaken, but what I was feeling was almost relief…
Breast cancer has always been part of my life; it very hard to remember a day that we didn’t coexist. The disease has touched every female family member on my maternal side. I have childhood memories of spending Thursdays at Pennsylvania Hospital in outpatient chemo with my mom who was diagnosed in her late twenties. I often assumed that everyone’s mom was bald and unable to hug too tightly because of her latest “boo-boo.” My mother was taken too soon, barely thirty-five, her mother in her early fifties and the chain continued…to me. To some, my story is sad, but to me it’s empowering. I armed myself with knowledge and preventative care. When the enemy came knocking, I would be prepared. I had an army of three who I felt with me through every surgery, each round of chemo and numerous setbacks. I had the knowledge that I was a BRCA1 mutation carrier—the only puzzling thing about my diagnosis that I was to learn was that my breast cancer was triple negative.
“What does that mean?” I naively asked the surgeon, “Negative is good, right?” I heard myself scream with fear. “Not exactly” are not words of reassurance from your doctor as he went on to explain and rattle off statistics that I was no longer able to comprehend. My focus was on aggressive, poor prognosis, higher mortality and many more awful adjectives.
Upon returning home, I immediately hit the web and researched into the wee hours of the morning. I remember waking the next day paralyzed with fear that I would never see the youngest of my three sons’ graduate elementary school, let alone Start College. I vaguely remember time passing slowly until the following weekend arrived, when I attended my first annual Fall Conference: “News You Can Use” hosted by Living Beyond Breast Cancer. That morning, before the first keynote speaker took to the stage, I was embraced into the sisterhood that spoke to my fears and filled me with resolve. If anyone was meant to be in attendance that day, it was me, as a key focus of the conference was on triple negative breast cancer. I learned so much that day and left with renewed spirit and most importantly, hope.
Now that I am a six-year survivor, I have taken many lessons from this journey: that we don’t get to choose what happens to us in life, but we do get to decide how to use it. My experiences have given me a voice to speak to young women while volunteering for groups like Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Young Survival Coalition. I have been rewarded the gift of purpose by co-founding my survival shops, Faith & Hope Boutique. But the greatest lesson I have learned is that good things come in threes: the legacy of my Grammy, mom and myself. My three sons, who I have watched graduate from elementary and high school. That we all have a past, can live for today and tomorrow is future enough to plan for. That most importantly, a triple negative diagnosis what not my ending, but a new beginning.
For more information about Faith & Hope Boutique, a shop fully staffed by survivors who are ABC and BOC Certified and rely on their own personal post mastectomy experiences to aid in your recovery, visit their website. Also, if you’re interested in learning more about triple negative breast cancer, head over to the LBBC website to order or download the Guide to Understanding: Triple Negative Breast Cancer.