Carmen, NSW – A very unusual triple negative cancer

April 2nd, 2014

I had a very unusual triple negative cancer found in my right breast in February 2013. I found it myself as it was causing some pain all of a sudden and although it didn’t feel hard like so many have been described, I felt I knew immediately what it was – triple negative, which means non-hormonal, non-oestrogen, non-protein (HER2).

I was 52 when it started, turning 53 by the end of treatment. It was a very aggressive cancer, and besides that it hurt, I had regularly self-examined and knew the difference/change I was feeling. I think it is so important to do that every week so that you know what you feel like and that any changes will be quickly discovered.

It was a very aggressive tumour, a “rapid mitosis” that they watched multiply on the dish! As there had been cancer in my family, my dad had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is what I thought mine might have been. I was off to the doctor as soon as possible. I then had a mammography and an ultrasound, followed within a few days by a biopsy to confirm a carcinoma.

Everything moved quickly from there to surgery for a lumpectomy and removal of lymph nodes and then on to chemotherapy. There was a clear two centimetre margin around the tumour area once removed and the three lymph nodes removed were also clear. I breathed a sigh of relief after that news only to have fear injected into me when they found that the HER2 (protein) component of the triple negative has never been seen before.

We did not know what we were treating, so they started the search for “where it started”. To my relief it was nowhere else to be found and we went ahead to treat it as a breast cancer. So on to chemo, four twice weekly AC/CM chemo treatments. This was very aggressive as was the cancer, and then 13 weekly Paclitaxel (Taxol) chemo treatments, followed by 33 radiation treatments – my “insurance” to ensure as best as possible for it not to return.

Treatment finished on 5 November 2013 and I am recovering and doing very well. I am suffering the normal post-chemo fatigue but handling that very well and participating in the TOPS (Treatment Of Post-Cancer Fatigue Study ) trial with the University of NSW Lifestyle Clinic to gain more knowledge in that area. I am having regular six monthly scans, including during my treatment due to the uncertainty of the cancer.

I am very pleased to say though that since the removal of the tumour (lumpectomy) last February my recent scan proved me to be cancer free one full year already. I think being positive about the best possible outcome helps you through treatment and getting well again.

I can’t stress how important it is to self-check, to have your mammogram and any other tests your doctor feels appropriate on a regular basis. It may save your life!