Oh, yes, you sigh.
And remember when your doctor told you it was an especially aggressive form called triple-negative, or estrogen negative?
Oh, yes, you shudder.
I suspect your reaction was like mine—confusion and terror.
Well, I was there eight years ago and now, look what I have done. I survived. Eight years! I have seen the birth of two grandsons since then, started painting again, traveled all over the darn place, and just generally get up every day like a regular person.
And the thing is, I am not unusual. The majority of women with non-metastatic triple-negative survive and go on to live long, full, meaningful lives.
And that is one of the many messages of my book, Surviving TripleNegative Breast Cancer: Hope, Treatment, Recovery, now in paperback.
Notice the emphasis on hope. That’s because I know so many women are terrified at this diagnosis—they think they cannot survive. And I understand that completely.
When I was diagnosed, I went online—of course, isn’t that what we all do? And what I found there terrified me—so many stories about this being an especially lethal form of cancer, about how aggressive it is, how the odds are against you.
The reality is far less scary. Far, far less. It is true that the survival rates for the more common form of breast cancer—hormone-positive cancer—are better than they are for triple-negative breast cancer. And it is true that metastatic TNBC can be touch to beat. But, still, I repeat, the majority of women with TNBC survive. That has become my mantra. Repeat after me: The great majority of women with TNBC survive.
In studies, as many as 90 percent of those with early stage TNBC survived. That’s a great statistic. Survival rates go down with higher stages, but even through stage 3, studies show that TNBC is highly survivable.
So, through my book and my blog, I am trying to counter the gloomy prognosis that is often automatically connected with this disease by doctors, journalists, and researchers. This is not a disease to take lightly—but in the great majority of cases, it responds to treatment.
I repeat, The great majority of women with TNBC survive.
Here are some of the things I talk about in my book:
• I tell my story—briefly. And I tell the stories of 11 other marvelous women who had estrogen negative or triple-negative and survived quite beautifully. One was breast-feeding her son when she was diagnosed. That son is now past 30. Two had babies after treatment, one got married in her 50s, one is competing in triathlons. One had two bouts of TNBC and has survived the second for ten years.
Wonderful women. Wonderful stories.
• But the core of the book is in research—triple-negative breast cancer is now the subject of some important studies worldwide, and I share the results of that research.
• I explain the disease and what we know about risk factors. I show you how to read your pathology report. And I expand on treatment options. Triple-negative responds well to chemotherapy, so most women have some form of surgery, chemo, and radiation. Metastatic, or stage 4 TNBC, is hard to fight, as are all stage 4 cancers, but it is the focus of most of the current research, so I am hopeful we find a treatment soon.
• And I talk about things we can control ourselves—diet and exercise. And give some tips on how to maintain a healthy approach to both. Plus, I offer the triple-negative breast cancer diet—a blueprint for healthy eating.
I approach the reader as a real person—I understand that she needs information and encouragement and perspective and, sometimes, a reason to laugh.
I am a journalist and a college professor, so I applied the skills I learned as a teacher, writer, and researcher to this book. Most important, I survived. And you can do.