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Learning and Embracing Change After a Triple-Negative Diagnosis: Polly Boebel

February 28, 2014

On Friday, March 8, 2013, my life was flipped upside down when my husband came across a lump in my left breast. Thank god for frisky husbands, right? The following week I went through several physical examinations, a breast ultrasound, a mammogram and a needle biopsy. Each appointment started with the medical professional’s reassuring speech about how unlikely it was that I had breast cancer given my age and lack of family history and was always followed by a complete change in demeanor and lack of eye contact as the examination progressed and benign causes were ruled out. 

The Friday after my needle biopsy, my breast surgeon suggested I prepare for the results to come back positive for cancer. The following Wednesday his prediction was confirmed, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My heart broke. I could only think about my poor baby boy, how badly I wanted to watch him grow up and how he did not deserve to have a sick mommy. Fortunately, my breast surgeon was reassuring and helped me believe breast cancer was just a blip in my life’s road.

So, I don’t know if I am alone in this, but I thought breast cancer and cancer treatment were pretty straightforward. After my diagnosis, I learned that is absolutely not the case. There are different subtypes of breast cancer, each with a different course of treatment. I met with my breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, geneticist, fertility specialist and two medical oncologists. I had blood tests, an MRI, a PET scan and at least 15 physical exams. I was literally in a doctor’s office, researching a doctor, or talking to a doctor on the phone eight hours a day for three weeks trying to acquire all the information necessary to make the best treatment decisions. 

The cancer was triple-negative, which means it was estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative and  HER2 negative. I also have no known genetic predisposition to breast cancer. Basically, I was just unlucky. Triple-negative breast cancer is highly aggressive (fast growing and high recurrence rates), common in young women and African-American women, and currently lacks treatment options beyond chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. This is why I chose to go through with a bilateral mastectomy (with reconstruction) even though I only had cancer in one breast. My goal was to do whatever I could to reduce my chance of recurrence. 

After I woke up from the surgery, my doctor told me that my tumor was about 6.5 cm and that the cancer had invaded my lymph nodes. I was designated stage III.

 In the last 6 months I have had a bilateral mastectomy, one unsuccessful round of fertility preservation (chemotherapy can attack the ovaries), five fills in my expanders, six rounds of dose-dense TAC (Taxotere, Adriamycin, Cytoxan) chemotherapy, goserelin (Zoladex) pellets inserted into my stomach, my chemo port removed while I watched and 28 radiation treatments. It’s been insane. 

My prognosis is pretty good. I am most vulnerable to recurrence in the next three to five years. I’m not sure if my fertility will return. My life is forever changed. Sometimes I still can’t believe this is my life.

Would you like to motivate and inspire others by sharing how breast cancer has touched your life?  Share your story.