Cancer Lesson #61: Three Negatives Don’t Make a Positive

Cancer Lesson #61: Three negatives don’t make a positive.

A few weeks after I finished treatment, one of my favorite cousins was diagnosed with breast cancer, beginning her own journey down the same same scary path I had so recently traveled. But her path took a different turn when she learned her cancer is triple negative.

You see, breast cancer has many variations. Pathology may show a tumor responds (is receptive) to estrogen (ER), progesterone (PR), human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), or any combination of the three.

If cancer is ER or PR positive, hormone inhibitors are used to help prevent recurrence. A cancer that is HER2 positive tends to be more aggressive, and is treated differently. (WebMD has a good explanation of this (http://tinyurl.com/34xafpm).

But my cousin’s cancer is triple negative, meaning it isn’t ER, PR or HER2 positive, hence the name, “Triple Negative Breast Cancer” (TNBC).

Because TNBC isn’t receptive to hormones, hormone inhibitors aren’t a treatment option, so she was treated with a more aggressive chemo regimen than mine, as well as radiation.

I share these facts because people sometimes assume all breast cancer is treated similarly, varying only by stage and/or size of the tumor(s). I hope you understand now this isn’t the case.

And with HER2, it seems not only can a negative be a negative, a positive can be a negative too.

For more information about TNBC, please visit http://www.tnbcfoundation.org/index.html.

Note: I was HER2 negative and slightly ER and PR positive so I take Anastrozole/Arimidex (a hormone inhibitor), which is effective for post-menopausal women. Tamoxifen is used for women who are pre-menopausal. Here’s a good explanation of the differences from the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation website: http://tinyurl.com/m4p7hgb.

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Cancer Lesson #??” Everything Has Side Effects

Cancer Lesson #??: Everything has side effects

Let me be clear. I’m very, very glad to be here.

And as side effects go, gaining a few pounds is a trifle, an infinitesimal detail scarcely worth mentioning.

I’m mentioning it anyway because it’s a good reminder that every cancer treatment has side effects.

My friend Pat’s maintenance drug makes her blood pressure go up, so she has to take another pill for that, which has its own side effects.

My drug, Arimidex/Anastrozole (an aromatase inhibitor), is meant to increase the time before cancer comes back, reduce the risk of it spreading, and reduce the risk of a new cancer developing.

Well, yay for that!

That doesn’t mean I have to like the side effects.

The biggie with Arimidex/Anastrozole is bone thinning and weakening, which I’ve managed to avoid so far.

Yay again!

But there are others: bone and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, hot flashes, weakness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite (yeah, like that ever happens to me!), constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, weight gain, mood changes, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, vaginal bleeding, vaginal dryness, dry mouth, dry skin, cough, and hair changes.

So, here’s the thing: I’m happy to take anything that might keep me walking longer on this earth. And most of the time, I will gladly put up with bone twinges, personal heat waves, and yes, even weight gain.

Only sometimes, I want my old body back, that pre-hot-flash, semi-skinny one I once took for granted.

It’s then I remind myself that things could be different.

You see, at least I’m here to have side effects.

Countless others weren’t so lucky.

Cancer Lesson #??: Cancer Makes You Paranoid.

Cancer Lesson #??: Cancer makes you paranoid.

More than two years have passed since my last chemo, and I’ve been praying for arthritis. Between prayers, I’ve practiced what to say to my family and tried to figure out how to get through another course of treatment.

You see, my elbow has been hurting for over a month now, and I was convinced my cancer had metasize metastaz metatastiz spread. (Another, less pressing worry, was learning how to spell metastasized.)

The pain isn’t incapacitating, excruciating, or even constant, but it’s consistent.

Did I mention bone pain is the main sign that cancer has metastasized?

At first, I thought, “No problem. I have an appointment coming up. I’ll just ask Dr. H about it then.” Except I wasn’t seeing him until October, and the hurt wasn’t getting any better.

Yesterday, I called and changed the appointment.

Today, one chat with the doc, five X-rays, one phone call, and the mystery is solved. The problem is not cancer in my bones – thank God! – but  Anastrozole’s effect on my ligaments.

Cancer makes you paranoid. Having survived it once, my continued survival depends on continuous vigilance. Unsurprisingly, this vigilance sometimes crosses the line into my personal version of a cancer conspiracy theory. In short, I think cancer is out to get me.

The idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. According to Metavivor Reasearch and Support, Inc. (http://www.metavivor.org), 30% of patients with early stage breast cancer develop metastatic breast cancer.

You know that expression, “Even paranoids have real enemies”?
Metastatic breast cancer is mine.

Paranoid? Maybe.

But alive.