Last week, we introduced you to LBBC’s newest blogger, Laura Renegar, who was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2011. When we left off, Laura had asked her surgeon if the results he had just delivered did indeed mean she had TNBC. Trying to be as compassionate as possible he stated, “Yes darlin’, it does.”
Always the southern gentlemen even as I was being told I have been diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. Here I was, thrown back down to the lowest point of the roller coaster ride yet. By this point, I had done enough research to know that I should be frightened. The research that I had seen showed the statistics and the prognosis of TNBC are not as positive as some other types of breast cancer, that there is not any targeted therapy for TNBC and that is usually very aggressive. Now I understood why my surgeon wanted my tumor out a few weeks prior. I understood why he didn’t want to waste another week waiting for the insurance company to decide the fate of my diagnosis while debating coverage for a blood test. All things became clear. I had to become my own advocate and I had to seek every bit of information I could find and I had to do my research. I didn’t know anyone that had triple-negative breast cancer, in fact, I had barely heard of it.
I had a port placed in my chest a few days later and in a few weeks, I began chemotherapy. Three days before chemotherapy I met my first survivor friend who had TNBC. She was coming up on her five year mark and I was impressed. She looked good and she was healthy. I became focused on just getting through chemotherapy because my oncologist said we were going to “hit it hard and hit it fast”, and we did.
I put my BRCA test results out of my mind and I gave 100% attention to staying well through chemotherapy. A month after my last chemotherapy treatment was my 48th birthday and it was time for me to make my decision for further treatment. Because of the fact that my cancer was triple-negative and the fact that I have the BRCA2 gene mutation, my decisions seemed pretty clearly defined. My oncologist seemed to think so, my surgeon seemed to think so, but yet, I had to make the final decision, and live with that decision, whichever path I chose.
I didn’t have to have a bilateral mastectomy. I didn’t have to have my ovaries removed. But if I didn’t have those surgeries, would that encourage a recurrence? I clearly remember lying in my bed on my birthday and thinking “in order to have more birthdays, I have to do everything in my power to protect myself”. I remember weighing my options. Even though my cancer was not in my lymph nodes, and I had chemotherapy, the fact that I was BRCA2 positive remained. My chance of a recurrence was extremely high; and the prognosis of recurrent triple negative breast cancer is poor. I had to do everything I could to secure my future and my life. I began researching bilateral mastectomies and what it meant to have my ovaries removed and what it would be like to be put in medical menopause at 47 years old. This option did not seem to be an easy path, but it did seem like the safest treatment path, to secure a future for myself.
The bilateral surgery, along with the oophorectomy (Ed. Note: the surgical removal of an ovary), was a hard surgery for me. It was hard physically and emotionally, and my roller coaster ride continued through reconstruction while learning to live with menopausal symptoms and my new body.
March 1, 2013 was the date of my two-year survivor anniversary. I look back now and am so proud of the path I took and the decisions I made to ensure my health. I did everything I could possibly do to beat my triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis and reduce the chances of a recurrence.
Would I do the same thing over again? Yes I would!
My story is still unfolding but I live each day the best way I can. I volunteer a lot for the American Cancer Society, I continue to update my blog, I write stories and articles when I am asked to, and I tell my story when I am invited to speak about it. Mainly, I try to encourage women to be their own advocate, to get their annual mammograms, to have their yearly physical, and to do self exams. I encourage them to know their breasts and to know their health history.
I will continue to try and shine a light on TNBC until a targeted therapy is found. I now know 19 women with triple-negative breast cancer. Two years ago I was not fortunate enough to know, and love, these women but I consider this one of the many blessings of this diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with TNBC, please reach out to people in your community and to find other TNBC survivors. How? Ask your doctors to introduce you to some of them. See if there is a local support group for TNBC. You can also call the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation and contact the American Cancer Society and ask for a TNBC volunteer with Reach to Recovery.
I also encourage you to seek out the many services available at LBBC for women with TNBC including their Guide to Understanding Triple Negative Breast Cancer, expanded sections of content on their award winning website and their upcoming free webinar featuring Dr. Eric P. Winer.
Take advantage of these resources and find other women – because they may need to have you in their life just as you will want them to be in yours.
On April 17, LBBC and the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation will host a free webinar at 12:00 p.m. EST. Also accessible by phone, the webinar’s featured guest is Dr. George W. Sledge Jr. Chief, Division of Oncology, Professor of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine. During the call, you’ll hear about today’s standard of care in treating breast cancer that tests negative for the estrogen, progesterone and HER2 neu receptors and gain insight on making the treatment decisions that are right for you. In addition, how to access clinical trials and get an insider’s look at the latest research on the horizon will also be discussed. Register online or call (610) 645-4567.
In addition, you can order a free copy of LBBC’s Guide to Understanding Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, that offers helpful information, whether you have just been diagnosed or you are moving forward after treatment.
Be sure to check out Laura’s blog, too!