How I’ve stayed positive despite a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis
Before I enrolled in one of MD Anderson’striple-negative breast cancerclinical trial in November 2016, I was in a dark place. I’d been re-diagnosed with breast cancer one year earlier, and doctors back home in South Carolina couldn’t get it under control. By the time I made it down to MD Anderson for a second opinion, my disease had spread to five areas of my body: shoulder, buttock, liver, lungs and rib.
Though I’m still undergoing treatment, I’m grateful to say that the clinical trial drugs are showing very promising results. I can no longer feel the tumors in my shoulder and buttock area, and the CT scans show significant improvement on the tumors in the liver, lungs and rib areas. I feel good. I play golf, I fish, I shop. In short, I go about my daily life.
There are certainly challenges, such as the constant traveling, medication dosing, fasting and eating schedules, and dealing with side effects like diarrhea and nausea. But I’m thankful I’m still here.
Here’s some of the best advice I’ve gleaned about staying positive during my cancer treatment:
You are your best advocate. No one cares more about your health than you do. You must take the lead. You can’t do that if you are wallowing in self-pity and negativity. Surround yourself with positive upbeat people and stay positive yourself.
Take good notes. Write down everything from every meeting and every test and every phone conversation. Chemo-brain is a very real thing, so your memory is affected. Just a plain spiral notebook works fine for taking notes. Good records can help you make better decisions and help others to help you. I can’t tell you how many times we have referred back to my notes.
Focus on the things you can control. I don’t know when or if I will ever get off of the clinical trial drugs or if we will always travel to Houston once per month. But I try not to think about it. I’ve found it’s much more beneficial to focus on the things I can control, like my eating habits. I now avoid processed foods, additives and preservatives as much as possible, and my husband and I have practically cut sugar out of our lives.
Don’t confine your conversations to health topics. Trust me, no matter how close your friends are, they don’t want to hear you drone on about your latest procedures, gripes about doctors and hospitals, etc. If they ask how you are, sum it up quickly, thank them for asking and move on. Stay positive.
Appreciate your loved ones. Love your spouse and your caregivers, and give them your best positive attitude. They are going through pain and anguish also. My wonderful husband has attended every appointment, every infusion and most of the biopsies. Sometimes we had to insistthat he be allowed into the biopsy room. He has been and continues to be my rock. I try to remember to thank him often for all he’s done for me.
Develop a good support network. If you don’t have family or friends that can provide a support network, talk to your doctor or insurance provider to find help. Do everything you can to surround yourself with positive, supportive people who care about you, get you out of the house and distract you from your worries.
Never give up. I know there are no guarantees, especially with cancer. But the breakthroughs are coming faster and faster, so don’t give up and crawl into a corner. I am alive today because I didn’t just accept the care I was being given. When my husband and I became dissatisfied with the treatment options back home, we took the initiative and found something we believed in, like this clinical trial at MD Anderson. When I think of all the things I would have missed if I’d just withdrawn from society and my family, I’m quickly reminded of how thankful I am that I didn’t give up hope. I hope you never do either.