TNBC Aware: Giving Back to Others Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
The second post for TNBC Aware is written by Melissa Paskvan. Melissa discusses how she coped with diagnosis and treatment, what it was like adjusting to her “new normal” and how she gives back to others with TNBC.
My name is Melissa Stukenborg Paskvan. I’ve been married for over 22 years to my high school sweetheart and our son just turned 13 years old. I am very involved in the breast cancer community here locally as well with social media with sharing information and reaching out to women in their fight with triple-negative breast cancer. I also like to travel to meet several of my TNBC sisters.
My breast cancer experience 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 past “today.” Can you imagine all the fear racing through my head and trying to keep myself together, especially since my husand and I hadn't yet told 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 turned to the internet to learn more about this tumor of mine, and I was really frightened with what I read about its aggressiveness. So little was known about this disease 5 years ago. What I learned left me feeling defeated before my battle even started.
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 chemobrain I experienced.
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 people 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. All the positive energy that flows through the room during group sessions has such an uplifting effect on my mental attitude. The ladies I have met, my “pink sisters” have formed a strong bond and, I draw from their strength to get me through any struggles I may face.
As a 5-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 life-style 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 triple-negative breast cancer fight. I have great compassion and a strong connection with these ladies in my sisterhood. I continue to fight for those who are still battling this dreaded disease… until we’re all safe!
I have documented my journey on my blog, Triple Negative Breast Cancer, I Won’t Back Down, to help 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. I pray that soon there will be a breakthrough in our much-needed targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer.
Never lose sight of hope, hope for more tomorrow.
Melissa Stukenborg Paskvan lives in Toledo, Ohio, with her husband and 13-year-old son. She’s an active blogger and breast cancer champion, especially for triple-negative disease.