Roxanne Martinez contributed this blog post for TNBC Aware. She reflects on her experience from getting diagnosed after learning she was pregnant, to becoming a triple-negative breast cancer advocate.
With a rollercoaster of emotions, I turned to the Internet to learn everything I could about the disease. None of what I read was encouraging about triple-negative breast cancer – the particularly aggressive type that is more likely to recur than other subtypes of breast cancer.
Prior to my diagnosis, I didn’t even realize that there were different types of breast cancer. With no family history of the disease, I was left to navigate the unknown and forced to become my own health advocate. Fortunately, I found online resources and support networks, such as the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation and Living Beyond Breast Cancer, that connected me with other women battling the disease.
I knew I had found the right medical team to treat my breast cancer when I shared my intent to carry out the pregnancy and my oncologist informed me that there were options to do so. Timing would be everything in my case. Based on the size, grade and aggressiveness of my tumor, my medical team recommended a treatment plan that included an immediate mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy — all while pregnant. I would begin chemotherapy during my second trimester, when research has shown to be safe for an unborn child.
After much research, soul-searching and prayer, I proceeded with treatment. Though it was a rough pregnancy, my baby’s resilience, along with fellow cancer survivors and a nationwide support network nicknamed Team Roxy, kept me going strong and inspired me through my journey.
The physical side effects of treatment were only part of the battle. Coping with breast cancer while pregnant made me an emotional wreck. There was absolutely nothing any doctor could tell me that would alleviate my fears. I wouldn’t be at ease until I could physically see and hold my baby. That time would come sooner than I imagined.
On the day scheduled to be my final round of chemo and at 32 weeks pregnant, I went into early labor. Born premature, but perfectly healthy, my tiny miracle had arrived to let me know we had won our fight. Unlike me, who was completely bald, Serenity Milagros was born with a full head of hair. Now 3 years old, Serenity has shown no signs that chemo ever touched her.
After Serenity’s birth, I went on to complete treatment and scans later revealed no evidence of disease. However, the lingering side effects of cancer treatment and the fear of recurrence initially paralyzed me from moving on with life. Survivorship is something I never imagined would be just as difficult as the treatment itself. Thanks to community and online resources, navigating survivorship has become a little easier.
Now a 4-year triple negative breast cancer survivor, I still struggle with the disease and its aftermath – physically, emotionally and financially. I have supported other women battling this disease.
Unfortunately, I have lost several friends to the disease. But I’ve also met many long-time TNBC survivors. They continue to give me hope.
Last fall, after sharing my journey at the LBBC Annual Fall Conference and marking my 4-year cancerversary, I made the conscious decision to let go of the fear, anxiety and frustration associated with the disease. I now focus on the positives that came from triple negative breast cancer, such as the opportunity to connect with many inspirational women, develop meaningful friendships and enjoy a greater appreciation of life. While I may not have chosen my journey with breast cancer, I choose to accept it as a pathway to finding Serenity, peace and courage.
As a 2015 TNBC Day Champion, I’ve also chosen to do something positive about triple negative breast cancer. Join me in supporting TNBC Day.
Roxanne Martinez is a 4-year triple negative breast cancer survivor, an LBBC Young Advocate and a mom of two toddlers. She resides in Fort Worth, TX. Read more from Roxanne on her blog. Follow her on Twitter: @teamr0xy.