TNBC Aware: Moving Forward After a Triple-Negative Metastatic Diagnosis

March 3, 2015

Cheryl Solomen writes about understanding her diagnosis, maintaining her routine and doing the activities she enjoys while living with triple-negative metastatic breast cancer.

I was diagnosed with triple-negative metastatic breast cancer in October 2012.

I was visiting with my daughter in Florida with my fiancé in September. While showering, I felt a mass in my left breast – it was hard and I was terrified.

When I got back home I called my primary care doctor and went to see her. During the appointment, she said she didn’t think it was anything to worry about. With that I was supposed to be appeased, but I wasn’t – I knew something was wrong. I insisted that I wanted a script for a mammogram and ultrasound. I went for these tests the same day and the radiology technician said preliminarily that the lump looked abnormal – the technician suggested I see a specialist.  I went back to the doctors very upset. I saw another doctor and he referred me to a breast specialist whom I saw the next day.

The specialist was wonderful and comforting and insisted it was early and “we caught it.”  “How do you know that?” I asked.  I wanted to make sure.   I semi-digested the news and was ready to begin my treatment plan. Then I learned that my PET scan showed the breast cancer had metastasized to my lymph glands and liver.  I didn’t even know what that word metastasized meant or what any of this meant. Tests also revealed that I was diagnosed with triple-negative disease. Another term I had never heard. That was scary.

I quickly found a wonderful breast oncologist at The University of Pennsylvania, and he explained to me in detail what my diagnosis meant…..and it worst day of my life. When my providers were telling me what triple-negative meant – that I couldn’t take hormonal therapy or other targeted treatment – I was hesitant about my life expectancy. They assured me that it was a very looked upon field right now in breast cancer research.

Still, I thought, “Are you kidding me?” I’ve worked out my entire life, ate right, just overall health conscious and this is happening to me?  Well yes, yes it was happening to me – it can happen to any of us.

I had to get a grip or I was going to lose my mind.  Weeks later, my girlfriends brought me to a great salon Martino Cartier, in Sewell, New Jersey, and the stylist shaved my head, gave me a complimentary great wig and eased my mind with stories of friends he has “in the same boat” and how they are still here living their life. It was exactly what I needed to hear that night.

After a year and half of treatments, I went into a remission and was able to get a partial mastectomy and have the lymph nodes removed (a mini miracle) and I also had reconstructive surgery during that window – I am so grateful.  Two and half years later, I’m still living life but with an optimistic view and still leading a healthy lifestyle.  I recently was removed from infusions and given an oral medication, still fighting but I’m hoping for success.

In spite of this news, there were some positive moments. A lot of things that providers told me wouldn’t be an option for me – mastectomy and lymph removal, for example – both became options for me. There was also a window of time where I was in remission. That was something of a miracle because I didn’t think that would be an option for me. I was petrified I’d have to live my whole life never feeling what that was like. It felt like a breakthrough to get a lot of that cancer out of me, even if only for small period of time. I was also told my hair wouldn’t grow back – I now have a lot of hair.

Even though I was told things would be so limited, I now see there were things I was able to do through this journey so far. And I’ve met so many people with similar circumstances along the way. There’s so much hope and encouragement there, especially when you meet others who have this diagnosis. When I hear someone say they’ve had this disease for 10-15 years, I feel hopeful and inspired.

During all this drama I managed to get my treatment, go to work after treatment, go to the gym and go on much needed trips whenever I could and I continue to do so. I even went on my dream vacation to Italy last October.  I will not let cancer defeat me or hold me back from anything I want to do, especially my workouts and yoga.  My friends and family keep me going, they are my support system.

I have not stopped doing anything I enjoy. I go to the gym daily, travel when allowable, go out with my friends, work every day and it just amazes me. I’ve read stories about people being bed ridden because of side effects, but I’ve been fortunate to have 50 treatment dates and be able to work and carry on with my life. I’m not going to let it win. Everybody is different and I don’t look differently on people for that – you have to be strong through this whatever that means for you.

In the interim, I lost my fiancé, my hair, my breast, but not my dignity and my zest for life.  I cannot and will not throw in the towel.  I decided during my journey to get Reiki certified to help other people with energy healing.  I received Reiki during all my infusions and it relaxed me immensely.  I’m looking for the perfect fit so I can help others.  I do Reiki on myself before I go to bed.  I also practice some holistic remedies.  I think you have to try anything and everything, and mixing holistic with traditional therapies can be very beneficial.

I know I will beat this cancer……I’m not going to let it get me the best of me!  Stay strong sister warriors and live your life. Every moment is precious!  We will win this battle!

Cheryl Solomen lives in Voorhees, New Jersey. An active participant in Yoga on the Steps, Cheryl started her own team, “Fighting for Cheryl.” Read more about Cheryl in her Q&A for Insight, Fall 2014.

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