Breast Cancer Survivor

Clinical Trial Helps Survivor Keep Pushing Forward

At 43, Stephanie was diagnosed with Stage IIIB triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). Multiple recurrences continued until she was restaged with metastatic TNBC six years later. She is now in a clinical trial and is grateful to be classified as NED (no evidence of disease). She shares her experiences on social media in the hopes of inspiring and educating people to see their doctors, get screenings and stay on top of their health.

During a routine mammogram in 2011, the radiologist saw a couple of tiny spots in my left breast and told me to come back for a follow-up in six months. About three to four months later, I felt a hard lump in that breast. I hoped it wasn’t anything and admit I waited a month before I contacted my doctor to approve another mammogram and ultrasound. At the follow-up, I also had a biopsy. Four days later, I was told I had breast cancer.

I switched insurance companies to have access to a top hospital with a breast surgeon and oncologist. They requested more tests and determined I had Stage IIIB triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) in April 2011. I was devastated and didn’t know what to do. I cried a lot.

I elected to have a lumpectomy and nine weeks of radiation therapy, which wasn’t so bad. My skin tanned in the area but didn’t burn. I was fatigued, and I kept myself numb emotionally to get through it. The treatment was successful.

I had no signs of cancer for six years until an annual mammogram and ultrasound showed numerous cancerous cells in my left breast where the original cancer had been. A biopsy confirmed it was TNBC again. My breast surgeon and oncologist agreed my best option was to do chemotherapy first to shrink the tumors followed by a single breast mastectomy. I had the surgery right before Christmas 2017.

Despite the mastectomy, I had another recurrence. So, I had a second round of chemotherapy, but by summer it returned again. This time it was found in the axillary lymph node near my underarm on my right side. Surgery removed that node and I followed it up with five weeks of daily radiation therapy. A month after finishing radiation, a small lump on my left mastectomy breast was discovered. It could’ve been mistaken for a pimple, but I had it checked out any way. It turned out to be cancer. I had it removed along with the remnants of breast tissue that remained in preparation for DIEP flap reconstruction.

By July 2019, the cancer returned again near the same axillary lymph node. Scans showed the cancer had spread to both lungs. I was officially Stage IV TNBC. At that point, I had exhausted all traditional treatment options so my doctor proposed a clinical trial. The metastatic TNBC was growing and spreading so fast that my oncologist wanted me to start one right away.

Being in a clinical trial has been a learning curve for me. I reviewed a 58-page document with a trial coordinator, but that didn’t prepare me for going through a clinical trial. Despite my original hesitation, I’ve had great treatment and have just completed my first year on this three-drug chemotherapy regimen. I’m still doing well and continue having a great response.

I’ll be on some type of drug therapy for life due to the cancer being so aggressive. It’s not ideal, but I have to do whatever it takes for me to have more time to travel and do the things I still want to do. I have a greater purpose in life, too, and that’s what keeps me going. Chemotherapy isn’t fun, but it’s worth it if I get more time.

Besides trying to keep the cancer at bay, I’m doing my part in helping this clinical trial get approved so my fellow metastatic TNBC fighters can have access to this treatment. I highly recommend being in a trial if there’s one that is specific for your type of cancer and you qualify for it. Cancer patients need more access to clinical trials. For me, it was my only option, and it is saving my life. It’s worth a shot to try.

I’m so grateful to my entire medical team who has been with me throughout my long cancer journey. My older sister is my caregiver, and I couldn’t go through it all without her. And, my family has been very supportive and helpful. I also share my brutally honest cancer experiences on social media. I hope to inspire others and educate them on what it’s really like to go through cancer.

Take it one step and one day at a time. Also, be your own best advocate. It’s your life and body. No one can tell you what to do with your life, what treatment options to choose or anything else. No one can tell you how to have cancer. Everyone is different and responds differently. Hold strong to your decisions. You can have bad days – that’s normal – but keep pushing forward.

 

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