I was diagnosed with TNBC almost one year ago (June 2015). I had gone to my OB/GYN for my annual check up and got my referral for a mammogram. I was 39, have no family history, and had no problems before so I was surprised. Even in the breast check at my annual, nothing was felt. I thought it would have been at least one more year before I started going for regular mammograms. Being the good "do-bee" that I am, I scheduled the mammogram anyway. When I was there, the tech noticed something and immediately took a few more local x-rays and then sent me back for an ultrasound. That resulted in a call back for a biopsy. They found a 1 cm mass that was triple-negative.
We had a trip to California already scheduled for the second half of June. My doctors all agreed that this delay would be all right and to go ahead with our vacation. This turned out to be the best choice. It really gave us some nice family time together away from home.
I decided to get my treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. There I met with my surgeon and they immediately scheduled me for another mammogram. They found that the mass was actually 3 cm, found another 9 mm mass, and an enlarged lymph node. In subsequent visits, they biopsied the node and that was positive too. I had an MRI which found 3 enlarged nodes; a bone scan and a CT scan which confirmed that the cancer hadn't spread past the areas we already knew of. I also decided to do genetic tested for the BRCA mutations. I knew that if it came back positive, I would get a double mastectomy, no questions asked. But if it was negative, I really wasn't sure if I would get a single or double mastectomy. Since we were waiting for those results, my doctor told me to start with neo-adjuvant chemo.
I met my medical oncologist in my city. He put me on the standard care, dose-dense Adriamycin, Cytoxan, and Taxol. My first chemo was on August 17. My cancer had grown enough that it could finally be felt. Within two doses, the mass noticeably softened and started to shrink. I got an awesome wig that was the hair I'd always wanted, just not this way! After my four doses of AC, I had another ultrasound. This showed the larger mass was down to 1 cm. I decided that I didn't want to do dose-dense Taxol and preferred to have 12 weekly doses with my doctor's approval. I was very worried about neuropathy. I did icing with gel gloves and booties and took l-glutamine and vitamin B complex supplements. I did get some neuropathy in my feet, but it's mostly gone now and didn't get any in my hands.
I had a single mastectomy and axillary node dissection on February 9, 2016. Surgery went very well. The pathology showed they had taken 22 nodes out. Two were pCR for cancer. The larger mass in my breast showed that it had shrunk from 2 cm to 1 cm and had clear margins. I then started radiation at the beginning of April. I've had 25 doses of radiation and 8 boosts to the scar. I have four more to go.
I wasn't active at all during chemotherapy, but since radiation started I've done a mile walk every day. I've lost ten of the twenty pounds I gained between steroids and emotional eating. There's one teacher in town who does a cancer for yoga class. I've started going to that weekly and it feels really good. I've also added acupuncture recently. I'm feeling much better, but I'm giving that time.
My sons were 7 and 4 at the time I was diagnosed. We've kept them informed about everything that I have gone through. We've kept it in simple terms they can understand and only told them about each treatment right before I was set to start. They couldn't handle the long term view of all of this. My older son did come to understand the seriousness of it and has come out with some statements that have broken my heart and shown how much he's grown up.
Because I had that residual cancer, my medical oncologist wants to start me on Xeloda after radiation because of that Japanese study that was announced at the San Antonio Breast Cancer conference. I'm all for throwing everything at this, but I'm not looking forward to having more chemo by any method. I'm afraid of the fatigue and other side effects. I'm afraid of losing what I've gained back for my life -- feeling healthy, taking my kids to places. In my head, I know that the chemo could help me keep those things for whatever time I have left, but it's so exhausting.
I've used a support group on Facebook and have found the various boards here on Breastcancer.org that relate to whichever treatment I'm going through to be very helpful. It was here that I learned of people doing icing. My doctor was okay with it, but seems to believe that while it wouldn't hurt, it wouldn't help either. I don't know if it did help, but if I hadn't done it and developed neuropathy I would've regretted not doing it.
In addition, one of the best sources of support was another member here on the boards. She PM'd me because we had a similar diagnosis. We ended up friends on Facebook and sent each other tons of messages through there. Our treatment schedules were about the same, though I was a little behind her. I'm forever grateful for her friendship. I'm hoping that one day I'll be able to meet her in person.
I also can't forget my husband and boys. They are my world and have helped me fight twice as hard. My husband's job required him to travel, but since my diagnosis he's been able to work from home and his employers have been so supportive of him, allowing him to be there for me.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of Breastcancer.org nor are they intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians.