TNBC Aware: Meaningful Action in Honor of Her Shero

Triple Step Toward the Cure founder and CEO Lori Flowers contributed this TNBC Aware blog post about her late sister, Sheryl, who inspired her to start the triple-negative breast cancer nonprofit to educate, encourage, and empower women diagnosed with the disease.

Sheryl (right) with her sister, Triple Step Toward the Cure founder and CEO, Lori Flowers (left).

Sheryl (left) with her sister, Triple Step Toward the Cure founder and CEO, Lori Flowers (right).

Cancer does not run in my family.  But general health and longevity do. Both sets of my great-grandmothers lived to be almost 100 and were largely independent even into their last days. My grandmother is 97 and sharper than many half her age and both she and my mother look younger than their years. I always attributed this to our Caribbean heritage.  So naturally I expected that genetics along with the salsa dancing and the patacones we grew up eating would help carry my sister, Sheryl, and I into ripe-old age.  However, that legacy was not enough to protect my beautiful and brilliant sister who was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in January 2008 at age 40.

I had no idea what was required of me but I immediately went into action mode, and assumed a role that was a constant mix of caregiver, therapist, comedian, and cheerleader.  Despite the circumstances, there were many wonderful moments and lessons learned.  As the eternal “little sister,” I now had an opportunity to step up for my shero. Continue reading

TNBC Aware: From TNBC Diagnosis to TNBC Champion

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.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATriple-negative breast cancer. I was devastated to receive the diagnosis in November 2010, shortly after learning I was pregnant. My entire life flipped upside down.

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. Continue reading

TNBC Aware: Giving Back to Others Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

The second post for TNBC Aware is written by Melissa Paskvan. Melissa discusses how she coped with diagnosis and treatment, what it was like adjusting to her “new normal” and how she gives back to others with TNBC.


My name is Melissa Stukenborg Paskvan. I’ve been married for over 22 years to my high school sweetheart and our son just turned 13 years old.  I am very involved in the breast cancer community here locally as well with social media with sharing information and reaching out to women in their fight with triple-negative breast cancer. I also like to travel to meet several of my TNBC sisters.

My breast cancer experience began in August 2009. My husband and son had just left for vacation when I found my lump by chance. I felt something along my bra band line under my breast and my heart sunk. I was in disbelief that my worst fear was now happening to me. I reacted fast and two days later I got in for a mammogram followed by an ultrasound. My 2 cm lump did not show up on the mammogram images because I had dense breast tissues. It was thought to be just a cyst but I insisted on a needle biopsy right then and there.

Another two days went by, and I received the call from my doctor. I was 41 and diagnosed with cancer… I was numb. I never cried, I wasn’t angry but I was really scared, scared of the unknown. Suddenly, nothing else mattered, I couldn’t see pass “today”. Can you imagine all the fear racing through my head and trying to keep myself together, especially since my husand and I did yet tell our son?

Two long weeks later, I met with my surgeon who told me that I have a rare and aggressive form of cancer that doesn’t respond to hormone therapy. My surgeon told me that my tumor was invasive ductal carcinoma with negative receptors for estrogen, progesterone and HER2 but, she didn’t use the term, triple-negative breast cancer.  It wasn’t until I met my oncologist a month later that I learned my cancer was actually referred to as triple-negative breast cancer, when she told me that my cancer was aggressive and we’re going to be just as aggressive fighting it with dose dense chemo every other week.

I turned to the internet to learn more about this tumor of mine, and I was really frightened with what I read about its aggressiveness. So little was known about this disease 5 years ago. What I learned left me feeling defeated before my battle even started. Continue reading

My Caregiver, My Friend, My Sister

November is National Family Caregivers Month, and we’re marking it with a special blog post by Lynn Folkman, our community engagement manager. Lynn writes about her sister, Deb, who offered tremendous love and support to Lynn throughout her experience with breast cancer.

Deb and LynnMy sister and I were standing near the finish line for the Philadelphia Marathon this past weekend. We were eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of my nephew and his fiancé so we could cheer and support them as they ran. While waiting to see them pass by, I enthusiastically cheered and clapped for all those running the marathon. I was overwhelmed at the number of all of those present showing support to those they love. With my sister by my side, I thought that she should be cheered for in the same manner as my caregiver.

Let me start by saying, I love my sister Deb. She is quite reserved and is one who does not like being in the spotlight. She has one of the biggest hearts and is one of the most giving and caring individuals I know. I have thanked her many times in a variety of ways to acknowledge her support during my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment; yet, I don’t think she fully understands the enormous positive impact that her caregiving had on my healing.

My sister and I were always close. During the time we shared as co-caregivers for my mom, who had laryngeal cancer, our bond became that much stronger.  Two months after my mother passed away, I had my annual mammogram. Two weeks after the results of my normal mammogram, I had a pain underneath my arm. Although my sister is no longer a practicing nurse, I asked her opinion. She encouraged me to go to the doctor for more information. The initial doctors visit led me first to an x-ray and then to an ultrasound, which was suspicious, and then on to a needle/core biopsy. My sister insisted on coming with me to the biopsy, and so her journey of being my caregiver began. I waited a few weeks for the biopsy results, but quite honestly after I heard the doctor say that 90 percent of these are benign, the thought of cancer left my mind. I was about to leave for a business trip for Miami when I received the call at work about my breast cancer diagnosis. Stunned and shocked, I hung up the phone and immediately called my sister. Her husband answered the phone and I managed to utter Deb’s name. He could tell that I was upset and my sister quickly picked up the phone. I was desperately trying to breathe, I gasped to find my voice to utter actual words, but ultimately found myself unable to speak. However, no words were required, the silence mixed with sobbing said it all – she understood, I had breast cancer. Continue reading

Hear My Voice: Living the Life of Clichés (That Are True)

LBBC Blog - Scott Cotlar%27s PhotoScott Cotlar writes about living by common clichés for people affected by metastatic breast cancer.

When I was first diagnosed with metastatic male breast cancer, I was not prepared to make any major changes in my life. There were just a few small lesions in my lungs. I was fully functional, working full-time as an attorney and had no interest in changing my daily routine.

That was about 6 years ago. Fast forward to today – lesions in my lung are “too numerous to count” according to the radiologist’s report; 5 bouts of gamma knife radiation of the brain for a total of 13 lesions treated; radiation to most of my spine; and now large metastatic lesions in my liver. Even with all of this, my good quality of life did not change until…a lesion on my tibia (a bone between the knee and the ankle) gave me an “elevated risk for fracture,” requiring that I wear a leg brace and walk with a cane.

The lesion to my tibia was the game changer. All of a sudden, my quality of life was deeply affected: the simple act of walking was no longer quite so simple. I felt an urgent need to “get my affairs in order.” As I write this blog I am preparing for chemotherapy, which I have done my best to avoid for the past 6 years, taking advantage of any hormonal or targeted therapy that I could get my hands on. I am finally starting to feel like a “real cancer patient.” Continue reading

Hear My Voice: Relationships, Faith and Being Declared NED

Serenity KislingSerenity Kisling blogs about navigating her relationships, her strong faith and being declared no evidence of disease.

As I write, it’s the first day of 2014’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’ll be honest: now that I’ve been declared NED (no evidence of disease), I don’t want to watch the Today show’s #PinkPower, or think about cancer. I am so traumatized by the last 7 years, and wondering if I was going to see my son’s third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh birthdays.

However, I want to reflect on my journey. Despite what I have experienced with my health and my family, I got through this journey with metastatic breast cancer through faith, laughter and by living my life.

First, let me say that the breast cancer journey sucks, no matter if you are lesbian or straight. I was initially diagnosed with stage III ER/PR-positive breast cancer in 2008, at age 35. I had a 2-year-old son and a different partner at the time. At that point, my relationship with my partner was rocky, and she was not very emotionally supportive while I had breast cancer. She had no idea what I was going through: being bald from chemo, becoming so sick because of the chemo that I could not drink or eat anything, ending up neutropenic, dehydrated and in the hospital for a week and developing pneumonia.

In 2009, my then-partner and I celebrated when oncologists declared me in remission. We thought life would go back to normal and not the “new normal” commonly associated with post-treatment — just “normal,” period. It seemed like I was better after finishing treatment. I even went back to my hardcore workouts. But then I started feeling fatigue, and with that came insomnia. Life became miserable for various reasons, and I decided to divorce my partner. It was the hardest decision I have had to make thus far in my life. Through all of this, maintaining my positivity (though hard at times) and my faith got me through this major life change.

Something that made me depressed was that the oncologist who declared I was in remission did not discuss preserving my fertility before I proceeded with chemotherapy, and now it’s too late. I had been in survival mode, I had a beautiful son, and having another child hadn’t crossed my mind. I wish now I had frozen my eggs. I would have loved for my wife to carry my child. Even though I live with this regret, I have come to realize that it may not have been meant to be, and I must accept this and cherish my one beautiful son. Continue reading

Hear My Voice: Moving Beyond Awareness

AnnbyKorn1Ann Silberman wants readers to think critically and fund research to help people with metastatic breast cancer reach their goals and milestones.


It seemed slightly odd to be asked to write for a website called “Living Beyond Breast Cancer” when, as a woman with metastatic breast cancer, it is only my family who will live beyond cancer. I will merely live with breast cancer until it kills me.  But so much of Pink October has so little to do with those of us who are metastatic that I agreed that our metastatic voices need to be heard this month.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with Stage IIA HER2-positive breast cancer. I did the normal treatment for my diagnosis; mastectomy first, then “TCH” which is 6 rounds of Taxotere and Carboplatin and a year of Herceptin. I cried the night before I lost my breast, I smiled as the nurses handed me my chemo graduation certificate, and my last Herceptin treatment brought great relief. My year of endurance had ended and now I could get fully back to my life.

At my very first 3 month post-treatment appointment, my doctor sent me for a scan, which brought the devastating news: breast cancer had spread to my liver. My cancer is now incurable.

And so I did as we all do – I searched for survival statistics, read stories of struggle and death, and learned acceptance.  I figured out how to live with a terminal illness (and was not always graceful about it).  Finally, I set a goal: I would see my son graduate from high school.

Over the course of the next three years, I was sicker than I ever thought anybody could be, but my doctor did not give up on me, and I did not give up on trying for my son. I had half my liver removed in an effort to eradicate the liver mets, only to find they grew right back. I nearly died from c-diff sepsis that landed me in the ICU and then left me recovering at home, weak and sick, for months. I struggled through 7 different chemotherapy drugs, each with their own side effects, until my marrow would no longer recover and my immune system was gone. I did SBRT radiation on the mets that continued to mutate. And, finally, I was put on Perjeta, which I call my miracle. My mets disappeared into the ether and in May of 2014, I not only watched my Valedictorian son walk with his high school class, but also this September I took him to his college, Caltech, settled him in, and even made his dorm room bed. Despite the odds, I reached my goal. Continue reading