“Five years ago,” those three words echoed as I sat alongside Denise at the breast cancer awareness breakfast hosted by Estée Lauder in partnership with Antony van Leeuwenhoek Hospital.
This hospital had been my sanctuary for half a decade; as we listened to the stories and engaged in discussions about the ongoing battle against breast cancer, a wave of emotions swept over me.
It prompted deep reflection on our progress while reminding me of the vast journey still ahead. A sense of melancholy washed over me, guiding me back to my personal odyssey.
Estée Lauder and Antony van Leeuwenhoek Hospital had joined hands to raise awareness about breast cancer, with the former generously contributing crucial funds for research and support for women grappling with the various forms of this insidious disease. I often likened breast cancer to a stealthy intruder, like a quiet knock on your door. Too often, it arrives unannounced, and by the time you realize it’s there, it’s already demanding your full attention. It’s almost like a never-ending game of “knock knock,” but with stakes higher than one can fathom.
Five years ago, breast cancer knocked on my door, and my initial reaction was disbelief. I questioned if this was some cruel joke, but regrettably, it wasn’t. As I delved deeper into my diagnosis, its gravity became all too apparent. I was classified as “triple negative” and discovered that I carried the breast cancer gene, further complicating an intricate situation. In the end, I had to undergo the removal of my ovaries, thrusting me into a permanent state of menopause. Nevertheless, surrendering to this disease was never part of my plan. I had far too much to live for – my children, my family, and dreams close to my heart.
“ Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a special type that makes up 10-15% of all breast cancer cases. What’s unique about TNBC is that the cancer cells lack certain receptors – they don’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors (ER or PR), and they also don’t produce too much of a protein called HER2. These cells “test negative” for all three of these factors.
This kind of breast cancer is often more common in younger women, especially those under 40, as well as in Black women and individuals with a specific genetic mutation called BRCA1.
But within that darkness were stars – bright moments of laughter, cherished family time, heartfelt conversations with my best friend, and an enduring sense of security, even in the depths of illness.
TNBC differs from other breast cancers because it tends to grow and spread faster, has fewer treatment options, and typically has a less optimistic outlook. This means that dealing with TNBC can be more challenging and requires a specialized and tailored approach to treatment and care.”
So, how does one respond when facing such a formidable adversary? You fight. How? You don’t think, but like Nike said, just do it! Fight; there was no time to waste. Despite receiving a series of grim diagnoses, I pushed forward, embarking on a particularly challenging Subito treatment at Antony van Leeuwenhoek Hospital. The treatment made me profoundly ill, yet oddly, I didn’t become as sick as they had predicted.
What is SUBITO treatment? The SUBITO trial (NCT02810743), in which stage III, HER2-negative, BRCA-altered breast cancer patients are treated with four cycles of ddAC and then randomized between neoadjuvant carboplatin/paclitaxel plus adjuvant olaparib versus high-dose carboplatin/thiotepa/cyclophosphamide, aims to provide answers to some of these questions.
This period felt like gazing into a dark sky, shrouded by sickness. But within that darkness were stars – bright moments of laughter, cherished family time, heartfelt conversations with my best friend, and an enduring sense of security, even in the depths of illness.
The journey was grueling, involving chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, radiotherapy, and multiple surgeries – one of which was removing my ovaries. It was a rollercoaster of emotions and physical challenges. However, as I emerged from this ordeal, I became stronger than ever. The adage about coming out of such an experience stronger holds a profound truth. It wasn’t an easy journey, and I’m not the person I was before. But that’s not what I desire. I eagerly anticipate the person I am becoming, embracing the quirks and imperfections that post-cancer life brings.
My energy levels haven’t fully rebounded, and my mind often feels like a foggy cloud. Emotional sensitivity has increased, perhaps due to a combination of post-cancer effects and the abrupt onset of menopause. Through all these trials, I clung to the belief that I was safe and protected by a higher power. I don’t say this to diminish the struggle of other women facing breast cancer without the support of family, friends, or faith. I want to emphasize that belief in oneself is paramount in battling this affliction and emerging with newfound strength.
While holding onto the positive and not allowing the negative to occupy too much space in your mind and heart, you need all the strength you can muster. After all, nobody has ever won a battle by lying down and giving up.
This journey commenced nearly five years ago. And here I am, sitting beside my best friend at a breakfast event hosted by Estée Lauder in collaboration with the hospital that saved me. I have the privilege of being an example for other women enduring what I went through, which is an immeasurable blessing to me. It brings a radiant smile to my face, serving as a testament to the strength within each of us when facing life’s most daunting challenges.