Breast cancer as a young woman and mother.

My cancer is back.

Triple negative breast cancer recurrence.

This is one of the hardest articles I’ve had to write. So much so that as I write this I have already had surgery and am 12 weeks into chemotherapy. I suppose I have resisted putting it on my blog. After all, I’m supposed to be a “survivor” aren’t I? But my breast cancer, damn that fucker, came back. I was diagnosed with a recurrence in October of 2023, 4 and a half years after my first diagnosis. 

How I found out.

On October 4th 2023, the day after my 40th birthday, I went for a routine mammogram. By then I was having them once a year just to check on things. The area around my lumpectomy scar was hard and bumpy, but I’d had concerns about that area for years and it always turned out to be scar tissue. Sadly, this time it was more than that. The mammogram was graded BIRADS 4; highly suspicious and follow up needed.                    

I had a biopsy 2 days later, and then an agonising 10 day wait for the results. During that time, I spiralled. Over the years since my initial diagnosis, I’d learned to live with the fear of recurrence. It had even started to fade into the background a little. I was so tantalisingly close to that magic 5 year mark that all triple negative survivors strive to reach, that I’d started to dare believe it wouldn’t come back. If it was going to, it would have already, right? Wrong, as it turns out. I was floored. I wanted to believe that it would be nothing. I trawled the internet obsessing over mammogram and ultrasound pictures that looked like mine and were benign. I begged the universe, not again. But in my heart and gut, I knew that it would be. The chances that a lump found in the exact same spot as last time wasn’t the extremely aggressive cancer were slim to none. 

The diagnosis and next steps.

10 agonisingly slow days later, I met with my oncologist for the results of the biopsy. I knew from her face before I even sat down that it was going to confirm my worst fears. As she explained that it was indeed high grade triple negative breast cancer, I sat with silent tears streaming down my face. Horror washed over me. Treatment would be a mastectomy and yes, chemotherapy again. With triple negative there are very few options, so chemo is nearly always on the cards. 

I knew the drill, after all this wasn’t my first rodeo. The first step before formulating a treatment plan would be a pet scan to see if it had spread anywhere else in my body. The thought of it was devastating, terrifying, sickening. We needed to know if this thing was going to ultimately kill me. Metastatic triple negative is not good. It is aggressive and moves fast. The thought of chemo made me physically nauseous, but the thought of dying was a million times worse.

My heart dropped into my stomach every time I looked at my childrens beautiful, innocent faces. Were they going to lose their Mummy? Would my husband have to raise them alone? Would I get to see them grow up? I wasn’t ready to die. Are we ever? 

The pet scan. 

All cancer survivors know the fear and anxiety that comes with scans after having cancer. But this one, the staging scan post diagnosis, is the worst of the worst. I had to wait 5 days between my official diagnosis and the pet scan. During that time I went into a dark, deep, black hole of terror. Every ache in my body became sinister. I’d had a persistent ache in the rib area on the cancer side for a few months since having a virus with a nasty cough. I became completely convinced that it was cancer in my ribs. And the scary part was, it was a completely reasonable conclusion to come to. It wasn’t just the fear and PTSD driving those thoughts, it was logical too. 

I sought help from my doctor for the anxiety I was experiencing. He gave me some pills without a second thought, and by the time scan day rolled around I was mercifully numb. 

The scan showed that the cancer was localised to the small area in my breast. Nothing else was found anywhere else in my body. It was only then that I allowed myself to feel something, breaking down into great heaving sobs of relief. I had the chance to beat this. 

My treatment plan. 

After the pet scan was done and we knew what we were dealing with, a team of oncologists came up with my treatment protocol. I would have a single total mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. As I had done AC (one form of the “red devil”) before they decided I would do EC (a different form of the “red devil”) instead as it is slightly less cardiotoxic. I would then do 9-12 weeks of Taxol, depending on how well I tolerated it. 

My mastectomy went well. I decided to have immediate reconstruction to implant. They also removed 1 lymph node that to my surprise was left in there from last time. The pathology report showed that the tumour was removed with a good margin of reassurance between it and my skin, and that the node was negative. Very reassuring. Recovery was longer and harder than I expected, but there were no complications. 

As I write this I have completed 9 weeks of EC, 3 infusions every 3 weeks, and 3 weekly Taxols. I won’t lie, it has been tough. It is harder on me this time around, probably because the systems within the body that are affected by chemo are already weakened from the first time I had it. EC was particularly brutal, and knocked me on my backside. Taxol is definitely more manageable, so far. I will write in more depth about experiencing treatment for the second time, and everything else that comes with a recurrence, in the future. 

How I am doing.

Now, 4 and a half months since my diagnosis, I am feeling a lot more positive. I have been working throughout and keeping my mind focused on the future. My family keeps me moving forward. I am absolutely determined to see this through and live my life on the other side. Of course, it’s a long and arduous journey to get to that mindset, and I will write more about that in the future too. 

For now I am still figuring it all out. I’m plodding on, putting one front in front of the other and counting down the weeks until I am finished.

 

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