Melissa Diagnosed at 41
My breast cancer journey 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 husband 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 knew I was in for a long fight ahead of me and had to be strong and stay focused with my main goal – to get healthy again. I opted for a lumpectomy, followed by an intense cocktail chemotherapy biweekly for 3½ months and then 33 radiation treatments following. Nearing the end of my treatments I felt lost; life after cancer treatments was a lot harder than when I was going through it. I’ve struggled some…the life I once had, there’s no going back to…I had to learn to cope with so many changes. I had two years of extreme fatigue and feeling constant scatter-brained that I later learn was one of the few symptoms of chemo-brain I still experience today.
I turned to a local cancer wellness center for support, trying to figure out my new “normal” and live again. I immediately got involved in their breast cancer support group where I was surrounded by women who didn’t mind talking about cancer, sharing stories and who “get it.” Talking to other survivors in my support group has helped me rejuvenate my self-image and ease the transition that I’ve been going through. I formed a strong bond with my “pink sisters”, and I draw from their strength to get me through any struggles I may face.
Now, a 6-year survivor of triple-negative breast cancer, I can breathe a little easier and am confident that I’m going to be ok and will live a long healthy life, but that doesn’t come without lifestyle changes… I need to keep reminding myself to eat healthier and exercise, exercise, exercise! Since my diagnosis, I continue to be very active in the breast cancer community with fundraising; and attending many awareness events and conferences across the country to learn of the latest research on TNBC and to meet other survivors like myself. The ladies that I’ve met on this path I’ve been traveling on, they all inspire me, as we were brought together because of our TNBC fight.
I have documented my journey on my blog, Triple Negative Breast Cancer, I Won’t Back Down!, to give others hope, give them the strength to fight and to provide them with resources and the information they need to know about TNBC. My writing was very therapeutic for me with expressing my feelings of what I was going through as I coped with my diagnosis.
Never lose sight of hope, hope for more tomorrow.