How I Survived Triple Negative Breast Cancer

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Written by Chiara D’Agostino, Breast Cancer Survivor and author of the Cancer Fashion Blog www.beautythroughthebeast.com 

I found the lump on my birthday, October 25th, 2014. It wasn’t a happy 43rd. August 2014 I had my routine mammogram and a week later the letter from the hospital arrived; everything was “normal.” Apparently, I have dense tissue in my breasts so the mammogram didn’t detect the lump. (Ladies, if you have dense tissue in your breasts – ask your radiologist – don’t stop at just a mammogram!) As soon as I felt it, I knew the mass didn’t belong in my body; fear enveloped me.

A mammogram, an ultrasound, an MRI, a chest and abdomen CT scan, a bone scan and a few biopsies later, I received the diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer, stage three. Triple negative means my cancer is not fueled by any hormones: estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2); it is fast growing and has a higher percentage of reoccurring in other parts of my body.

The thread throughout my cancer diagnosis was fear. It gripped me tightly in its hands and whirled me around until I was dizzy and exhausted. I felt alone in my terror; friends and family would try and ease the pain by saying “There’s a cure!” “Breast cancer is the best kind of cancer to have!” and “You’ll be fine, my sister/cousin/hairdresser had it and she survived!” I politely nodded my head, thinking to myself, “You’re not God, you don’t know if I will be that small percentage of women that die from breast cancer – it happens!” I was being realistic. I wanted my fear to be acknowledged; I longed to be heard, and held, not patronized.

The steps I took that got me through my cancer diagnosis and treatment:

  • I clearly asked for what I wanted, whether it was lentil soup, a foot massage, silently being held on the couch or phone calls from friends; I didn’t assume people knew what I wanted.
  • I was my own health advocate, making the necessary phone calls to my insurance and doctors: I scheduled many appointments, second and sometimes third opinions.
  • I accepted offers from friends, family and acquaintances for accompaniment to appointments; if no one offered, I asked. Even if it was a simple test I could clearly go to by myself, I needed their company to distract me from my catastrophic thinking.
  • I got a copy of every medical report, scan, test, x-ray, etc. that was done to me. I made sure I understood what was happening, asking my doctor questions along the way.
  • I kept a diary of all of my appointments; what was done, where, and who was the ordering doctor.
  • During chemo, I relied heavily on the nurses – they provide all the caring and a wealth of knowledge and tips.
  • I threw cancer parties: a “Fuck Cancer” party after I received my diagnosis, and a “Boob-bye” party the night before my mastectomy. I’m the kind of person that needs support from my friends, so I made it happen.
  • I wore my natural looking wig when I wanted, and replaced it with hats towards the end; the wig was annoying. I did have fun at one point and bought an array of different colored wigs: I felt like a rock star when I wore them and got many compliments.
  • I posted on Facebook (that’s my way of communicating to many people, but there’s also www.caringbridge.org) that I encouraged phone calls and visits, and then I received them – that made me happy.
  • I made sure to get out every day, whether to run an errand, have a meal with a friend or see a movie with one, getting out and hearing people talk about their lives was refreshing.
  • I watched a lot of television, which is unnatural for me. It took my mind off of myself, and during chemo, it helped me to relax; I stuck to comedy and romance.
  • I watched Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Cancer It scared me, but it also made me feel like I am not alone.
  • I spoke to other survivors I knew and met up with them for coffee. When I felt overwhelmed, I took a break.
  • I made my cancer accessible: I answered people’s questions about my health and diagnosis then I’d change the subject.
  • I bought several breast cancer books and flipped through them, with a friend, when I had a specific question; reading them alone was too scary.
  • I joined Facebook groups for triple negative breast cancer and the likes, and when I got overwhelmed or scared, I stopped reading the posts.
  • I limited googling information about my type of cancer.
  • I brought the same friend with me to each important appointment; she took notes and learned the breast cancer vocabulary alongside me. I turned to her during my decision-making process.
  • I called a cancer support hotline in New York City, SHARE, and spoke at length to a survivor on the phone. I was relieved – I finally felt heard, understood and supported! I keep in close contact with SHARE and still go to their cancer support groups.
    • Cancer support groups are monumental in my recovery: I learn a lot from the facilitators and the survivors, and I can speak my mind in a safe environment, where I am unconditionally loved and understood.
    • I was afraid to attend support groups for fear of hearing horror stories. When I was ready, I gave it a try. I listened to each woman and learned, reminding myself that every woman is different and her story will not necessarily be mine.
    • I attended breast cancer support groups in various different locations, and only returned to those that have a well-trained facilitator; some are too big or disorganized.
  • I found a local, reputable hospital that offers free classes to cancer patients and attended their weekly Mindful Meditation class, Stress Management class, Art Therapy class and Chi Gong class. I could relate to the people and I benefitted from learning techniques to relax my body and mind.
  • I attended weekly therapy sessions with my therapist, sometimes more than once a week.
  • I spoke to the oncology social worker at my hospital as often as needed.
  • I saw a psychiatrist and got on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills; at first I felt ashamed, but once the pills took effect, I was relieved.
  • I cried when I felt like it – for me, it came out all at once when I arrived home from the hospital, post-mastectomy: a breakdown.
  • I visited a holistic healer weekly, the energy healing was nurturing. I yearned for healing hands on my body, not those that poked or prodded me.
  • I got massages or facials regularly. At the time, someone was helping me financially, but massage and Reiki can be found free for cancer patients at your hospital.
  • I rested when I was tired, sleeping as much as needed, guilt-free.
  • I accepted help and asked for it when wanted (not just needed.)
  • I aimed to walk an hour a day; it felt therapeutic to breathe fresh air and circulate the blood in my body.
  • I drank a lot of Fiji water.
  • I ate healthy- lots of protein, greens and fruit, limited sugar and dairy intake.
  • I posted on Facebook that I wanted soup, and got containers of delicious homemade soups delivered to my door for weeks!
  • I learned which family, friends and acquaintances are there for me and which aren’t. I was shocked in both good and bad ways, accepting the results.
  • I did a lot of journaling.
  • I created a cancer fashion blog, beautythroughthebeast.com and blog regularly.
  • I’m now giving back and reaching out to women who are being diagnosed.
  • I surround my self with positive affirmations.
  • I rid myself of toxic people and environments.
  • When I want to do something and hear a doubting voice in my head, I take action anyway! Today, I go for it. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so I make the most of today.

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Proton Therapy: New Less Toxic Treatment for Early Stage Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer News, iGoPink Blog 2 Comments

Proton Therapy is a relatively newer form of cancer treatment. It has shown remarkable promise and advantages over conventional therapy in the treatment of breast cancer.

Proton radiation therapy is non-invasive treatment that offers a low-risk option for early breast cancer patients. It has less impact on the healthy tissue near the tumor site that is being treated with the proton therapy. This is because the proton goes directly in to the tumor with pinpoint precision and stays within the tumor. This is unlike traditional therapies that have an exit point. Compared to traditional radiation, proton therapy does not leave any burn marks and does not cause any cosmetic or tissue damage.

ProtonTherapy

Image Credit: University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute

Researchers and physicians stress that proton therapy is not a replacement for a lumpectomy but rather a less toxic path of treatment afterwards. At a proton therapy center, the average breast cancer patient will receive a 30 minute to 1 hour per day for a total of 10 days of proton treatment on an outpatient basis. Compared to radiation and/or chemotherapy which require at least 5 to 7 weeks of treatment, proton therapy allows the patient a faster approach to treatment.
Other strong points for Proton Therapy leading the way as a new treatment are:

  • Treatment offers faster recovery time with minimal side effects
  • Pain-less for most patients
  • Little to no hair loss
  • Proton radiation has little to no impact on patient energy levels

Currently in the United States there are 12 Proton Therapy Centers with several more in the planning stages at leading treatment hospitals and facilities.
Current operating centers include: