Blogger Anna Craig wrote this original post about living with stage IV triple-negative breast cancer for our TNBC Aware series.
I am 38 years old and I have stage IV triple-negative breast cancer. This is the bad kind of breast cancer that no one really talks about. It is incurable and will ultimately take my life. Triple-negative breast cancer is defined by what it is missing. It is the left over breast cancers that do not have one of the three known receptors; estrogen, progesterone and HER2. More likely to occur in young adults, triple negative makes up 15% to 20% of all breast cancers. We are a minority.
Living with metastatic breast cancer is like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole, where each person has a finite bag of mallets. When a metastasis shows up on a scan you try to whack it on the head with a mallet. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, you grab a new mallet and keep whacking until you run out. As you can imagine, the bigger your bag of mallets the more likely you are to extend your life. Unlike HER2- and hormone-positive breast cancer, triple negative does not yet have targeted treatments like Herceptin. My treatment options, outside of clinical trials, are limited to chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. This means my bag of mallets is much smaller.
Having metastatic breast cancer in your 30s is complicated. As with most young people my age, I am in the thick of my life. I have two small children and a budding career as an architect. Until cancer, I was healthy, active and ambitious. I had patiently begun to build my life. I had even started to discover things that inspire me to dream without limits. My life was just starting to take flight, when in an instant, cancer happened and my world crashed at my feet.
I’ve always been a person who embraces the idea that life is a journey. I pictured my career as a long twisting road of discovery. My twenties and thirties would be about understanding how buildings work and how materials come together. I would take time off to have a small family. I would balance my career and my ambition with parenthood. Life would be thick, active and vibrant.
In my forties and fifties, I would start to come into my own. I would create a body of work that was imaginative and inspiring. My buildings would have spaces full of light, texture and meaning. In my sixties and seventies, I would travel the world and work on a few special projects. My buildings would reflect my wisdom and grace. I would be an eccentric old architect with lots of grey hair, wrinkles, colourful socks and brightly patterned clothing.
Triple-negative breast cancer with its never ending toxic cycles of chemo derailed that life. Instead of balancing my career with my family, I have spent days and weeks in bed. Cancer can be very isolating. Sometime I get so trapped in my illness and my discomfort that I struggle to relate to the people around me. The more time I spend in bed, the more my dreams and passions drift away. Often I feel very alone, vulnerable and angry. Continue reading