Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Facing Cancer at a Young Age

Many women diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer are younger than most breast cancer patients. Although a breast cancer diagnosis can be shocking at any age, it can be especially difficult when you are in the middle of starting or raising a family and/or career. The drastic shift in focus to treatment and recovery often presents unique issues, such as how to preserve your fertility or needing to talk to your kids about cancer. Know that you are not alone. Talking to other triple-negative breast cancer survivors can help you to better cope with the adjustment you may have to make before, during and after treatment.

Fertility

Millions of women undergo cancer treatments that will successfully save their lives but can also leave them permanently unable to get pregnant. This can be a major concern for women of childbearing age who were diagnosed with this disease before they were able to start or finish creating their families. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer but are not ready to rule out the possibility of becoming a parent, consult with a fertility expert before committing to any treatment options that may leave you unable to have children. Fortunately, there are ways to preserve your fertility, and your medical team can help you better understand your options.

Talking to your kids about cancer

Kids are perceptive and often know when something is wrong so you should consider talking to your kids about cancer as soon after the diagnosis as possible. If you’re having trouble starting the conversation, it may be helpful to include another family member or a professional who can help answer questions. Also keep the following in mind:

  • When talking about it, don’t avoid the word “cancer” as this may unintentionally cause confusion and misunderstanding.
  • Provide age-appropriate information to help ensure kids aren’t drawing their own conclusions, which can sometimes be scarier than the facts.
  • Be realistic. Making your kids believe you’re going to be just fine may confuse or scare them even more if you get sicker. Instead, let them know that you and the doctors are doing all you can to fight the cancer.
  • Try to help your child understand the treatments and side effects you may have. Let them know that even if the medicine seems to make you feel worse, it’s actually working to fight the cancer.
  • Seeing a parent lose their hair or lose weight can be scary, so let them know ahead of time you’re still the same person on the inside.
  • Make sure they know they can still come to you to talk about other things going on in their lives.
  • Remind them that no matter what, cancer doesn’t affect how much you love them.

Re-entering the work force

Many people diagnosed with cancer are forced to make choices that affect their career, and younger patients may find that they have to put it on hold altogether. If you took time off during cancer treatment, re-entering the work force can be a difficult transition, whether you are returning full-time, part-time or starting a new job. It can be a confusing clutter of feelings, but mixed emotions are normal so give yourself plenty of time to work through them. Setting career goals, understanding disclosure obligations and determining any necessary modifications you’ll need beforehand can all help you clear your head and ease the transition.

 

Glossary Terms: Words to Know

Use these definitions to help familiarize yourself with some of the terms your medical team may use.

Breast reconstruction – Surgery to recreate the breast’s shape after a natural breast has been removed. Procedures may involve the use of implants or natural tissues.

Estrogen – A female hormone produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. It is important for reproduction and may stimulate some cancers to grow.

Estrogen receptors – Specific proteins in breast cancer cells to which estrogen hormones attach. A high number of estrogen receptors often means the cancer cell needs estrogen to grow.

Lumpectomy – Also called breast-conserving surgery, this procedure removes only the part of the breast containing and closely surrounding the cancerous tumor.

Lymph nodes – Tissues in the lymphatic system that filter lymph fluid and help the immune system fight disease.

Lymphatic system – The network of lymph nodes and vessels in the body.

Mastectomy – Surgical removal of the breast. The exact procedure (simple, total, radical) depends on the diagnosis.

Metastasis – Spread of cancer to other organs through the lymphatic and/or circulatory system.

Mutation – A mistake or alteration of the information contained in a gene.

Progesterone – A hormone made by the body that is important in menstrual cycles and pregnancy.

Progesterone receptor – Specific proteins on breast cells that progesterone hormones attach to. A high number of progesterone receptors often means that a cancer cell needs progesterone to grow.

Prognosis – The expected or probable outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery.

Prophylactic surgery – Preventive surgery in order to keep cancer from developing.

Sentinel lymph node – The lymph node in the underarm area nearest to the breast tumor that filters lymph fluid from the tumor site.

Tumor markers/biomarkers – A substance made by cancer cells and sometimes normal cells that may be useful in developing a treatment plan, monitoring response to treatment or when looking for cancer that has come back (recurred).

 

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