TNBC and Me: Thriving after triple-negative breast cancer
In 2018, Living Beyond Breast Cancer and the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation teamed up to put triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) front and center by sharing the personal stories of women living with this subtype of breast cancer in our blog series TNBC and Me.
I have to be honest. I wasn’t sure that I would ever get to this day. Nearly 8 years after my diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer, I am on the other side of the devastating disease and no longer think about it on a daily basis. I am one of the lucky ones. Read my story here.
Not only am I now cancer-free but I have truly been able to move beyond my diagnosis and treatment to a place of healing and peace. Other survivors often ask me how I arrived at this point in my cancer journey. It certainly was not easy, but I have some tips to share on moving past a diagnosis and treatment to thriving as a breast cancer survivor.
1. Learn to let go. After losing my hair, breasts and job due to breast cancer, I deserved to be angry. When my reconstruction failed and I didn’t get my desired outcome, I deserved to be disappointed. And even after my oncologist told me there was no evidence of disease, I had every reason to remain fearful. But it wasn’t healthy to continue to dwell on those things. In fact, those things caused me a great deal of stress. Once I mastered the skill of letting go (it took much practice and prayer), things began to get easier. Instead of harboring ongoing fear, anger, anxiety and guilt, I made a conscious decision to let go of all those stressful emotions and move forward in life after cancer.
2. Embrace your new normal. Like many survivors, I thought I would bounce right back into my pre-cancer routine once I completed treatment. Maybe it was naïve for me to think I would resume running 10Ks just days after chemo ended. Little did I know that I would soon be face to face with this thing called my “new normal.” At first, I really struggled with my new normal. After all, I just wanted to go back to life before lymphedema, chemobrain and neuropathy. But for some of us, cancer changes us forever and we must learn to adapt to these changes. Despite lingering side effects years after treatment, I learned to set new and realistic goals for myself and to embrace this new normal.
3. Seek support and resources. Depression is common among breast cancer survivors and can sometimes last long after treatment. In my case, depression and anxiety followed me well into survivorship. Fortunately, I recognized the signs and symptoms early on and was able to get the help that I needed. I found it very helpful to visit with a psychotherapist in the year or two following treatment. I also learned and practiced meditation techniques that helped me to manage anxiety, insomnia and even chemobrain.
4. Connect with others. During treatment, I always found it especially meaningful to talk to other survivors who were faced with a similar journey. When I found myself feeling alone after I completed treatment, I sought out local survivor support groups. And when I didn’t find the perfect group for me, I started my own support network and still lead the group that meets face-to-face monthly. There is something special about connecting with others that truly understand what you’re going through. I also found it useful to connect with survivors online through the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Young Women’s Initiative and also in the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation online community.
5. Find your silver lining. We all have one. Inspired by Hollye Jacobs’ bestselling breast cancer guide, The Silver Lining, I began focusing on the positive things that came out of my breast cancer journey. Such as the amazing women I had gained as friends through my support network, through LBBC conferences and online. I also redirected my energy to supporting newly diagnosed women through their journey and inspiring others by sharing my story and spreading hope. In serving others, I have also healed myself.
Those are just a few things that have helped me transition from diagnosis and treatment to a TNBC thriver. I cannot deny that my faith, family and friends have been a huge part of my recovery and healing as well. These days, my children, my business and my community work keep me too busy to even think about breast cancer. But I am grateful that, through my breast cancer journey, I have a gained a greater appreciation for life and am now living my best life possible.