By Caroline Brown
In 2012, my husband and I moved back to Texas from New York City. We were excited to be back in our home state and ready to start a family. Breast cancer, infertility and finding a surrogate were not part of our plans.
My breast cancer diagnosis
I remember like it was yesterday. One night in the shower, I stumbled upon a lump on my left breast. I knew it was not supposed to be there.
I called the doctor the next morning. After a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy, I learned that I had stage two ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer. I was stunned. I was young -- 30 years old -- with no family history of breast cancer. I had recently had my annual exam and thought I was healthy.
Learning about infertility during cancer treatment
I already knew of MD Anderson's reputation. Since it was in my new hometown of Houston, I made an appointment there right away.
Results tagged “Breast cancer”
By Caroline Brown
When doctors diagnose breast cancer, they look for three types of receptors -- estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) -- expressed in the breast cancer. These are what cause most breast cancers to grow. They're also what our doctors typically target when treating breast cancer.
But some breast cancer patients lack these receptors. When this happens, the breast cancer is called triple-negative. And, without any receptors, it can be more challenging to treat. This is why triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is one of the cancers we're focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths.
We recently spoke with Naoto T. Ueno, M.D., Ph.D., section chief of Translational Breast Cancer Research in Breast Medical Oncology, to better understand TNBC. Here's what he had to say.
Are some people more likely to develop TNBC?
TNBC affects women and men of all races and ages. Compared to other types of breast cancer, we tend to see this disease more in premenopausal women than older women. We're still trying to understand why these groups are more likely to develop TNBC.
Triple-negative patients are more likely to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation compared to non-TNBC patients. But you can still develop TNBC even if you don't have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. We're still trying to understand the link between TNBC and BRCA.
By Brittany Cordeiro
Recent news headlines suggest women with dense breast tissue need specialty care and exams to detect breast cancer.
But Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center, says the news is ahead of the science.
"We understand that dense breast tissue is associated with an increased risk for breast cancer, but we don't fully understand that risk," Bevers says. "We need more research on how to manage women with dense breast tissue before we can say whether extra screening exams make a difference."
Below, Bevers answers some common questions about dense breasts and screenings.
What does it mean to have dense breasts?
Breast density describes the proportion of the different tissues that make up a woman's breast. Women with dense breasts have more glandular tissue (breast and connective tissue) than fat.
Also, breast density can only be determined by a mammogram. It's not a measure of feel, such as size or firmness.
By Ryan Stephens
As if the cancer journey isn't tough enough, imagine being a single parent to a 15-year-old daughter.
That was the case for Constance Charles when her doctor confirmed the cluster of lumps she'd felt around her right breast was breast cancer - stage 2 noninvasive intraductal carcinoma. She had no history of cancer in her family, so the diagnosis was a complete surprise.
Constance was afraid to tell her daughter, Briahna, because she didn't want to think about her having to face the world alone. It had always just the two of them together in Texas. Their closest family members lived in Kansas.
When she finally worked up the courage and broke the news, Briahna asked, "Are you going to die, Mom?"
More than 12 years later, Constance is proud to call herself a cancer survivor and an MD Anderson employee. Constance always tells single parents - or anyone facing cancer - that faith, family and friends are what helped her and Briahna get to this point.
Advice for single parents facing cancer
Here's Constance's advice for single parents facing cancer:
Stacy Sugg had just taken some time away from her job as a teacher to spend more time with her children and her husband. But just a few months later -- on her 16th wedding anniversary -- she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It was not exactly the gift I was expecting," Stacy says.
To calm her fears, Stacy scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson in the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center's Multi Team Clinic in Houston, not far from her Conroe home.
Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment and a mastectomy
During her first appointment, Stacy and her husband met with all her doctors, including her surgeon, her oncologist and her radiation oncologist. They made a plan for her breast cancer treatment.
"As someone who's just been diagnosed with cancer, all you want is to know what you need to do next," she says. "We left with smiles on our faces. We had a plan, and we knew that our doctors were all on the same page. It was a very comforting feeling."
By Delia Stroud
After finding lumps in my right breast and lymph node area in January 2014, I was diagnosed with stage three triple-negative breast cancer. This was a tremendous shock because I'd had a clear mammogram only six months earlier.
To fight my very aggressive, very high-risk cancer, I immediately began five months of intense chemotherapy, followed by two surgeries and six weeks of radiation. Currently, there is no targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer, which made my diagnosis especially daunting.
MD Anderson's no-lose option for triple-negative breast cancer treatment
It was supremely comforting to be at MD Anderson. Triple-negative breast cancer is rare and difficult to treat, but MD Anderson is focusing on improving treatment through their Moon Shots Program, an effort to reduce cancer deaths.
Because I was blessed to be treated at MD Anderson, I felt confident I could rely completely on the expertise of my incomparable dream team of doctors -- Sharon Giordano, M.D., Beth Mittendorf, M.D., Ph.D., Eric Strom, M.D., and Melissa Crosby, M.D. My outstanding medical team fully rewarded my trust. By tweaking the approach of a cooperative group study presented shortly before my diagnosis, they provided me a true win-win option.
A standard triple-negative chemo regimen is 12 weeks of taxol, followed by four doses of adriamycin and cytoxan. In the new study, doctors gave patients an additional chemo drug called carboplatin. The study showed that this treatment was successful for 54 percent of women who took carboplatin, compared to only 40 percent of those who didn't take carboplatin. Yet, because carboplatin is highly toxic, some women could not tolerate it and had to stop their chemotherapy early.
By Ashleigh Range
In June 2014, I was awaiting the birth of my second son, David, while juggling a demanding job and raising an 18-month-old, Noah, with my husband, Brad. We had just moved into a home in the suburbs to accommodate our growing family. We were living a fairytale -- the American dream.
Our American dream became a nightmare when, at 34 weeks pregnant, I noticed changes in one of my breasts. After a few doctors told me that my symptoms were typical for a woman during pregnancy, I went online. MD Anderson's website indicated that my symptoms aligned with those associated with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). An ultrasound and biopsy confirmed my worst fears. I did indeed have IBC. To make matters worse, my breast cancer was triple-negative, making it more challenging to treat.
Due to limited knowledge and treatment options for my disease, as well as the aggressive nature of triple-negative IBC, my prognosis is poor. However, I still have hope. In December 2014, after six months of chemotherapy, I learned my cancer had progressed, not shrunk.
By Bree Sandlin
In the summer of 2012, I was diagnosed with stage three triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). I was 37 years old and had 5-year-old twin boys, one with severe cerebral palsy. Having a child with special needs, my husband and I were no strangers to hospitals and doctors. Despite those experiences, nothing could have prepared us for the words "you have cancer."
The next year of my life was one of the most difficult, and as I was soon to learn, one of the most inspiring. For my TNBC treatment, I underwent six months of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, an oophorectomy and two months of radiation therapy.
On February 13, 2013, my husband and I heard the three most amazing letters ever recited:
"pCR." Pathologic Complete Response. The cancer was gone, and I was officially in remission!
We cried, hugged our oncologist, hugged our kids, and embraced each other. We decided at that moment that this was a day worth remembering. The end of my TNBC would mark my cancerversary date. Our own personal pre-Valentine's Day celebration of love and joy.
Celebrating my first TNBC cancerversary by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
When TNBC cancerversary number one arrived in 2014, we decided to go big. My husband and I joined a team of 16 cancer survivors and like-minded cancer-haters to climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro. Kili reaches 19,341 feet and rises high above the surrounding plains of Tanzania, Africa. The experience was life-changing.
By Barbara Kielaszek
My cancer story began over 40 years ago when my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, my grandmother waited too long to see a doctor. Even though she had a double mastectomy and showed her courageous spirit during her cancer journey, the cancer had spread and my grandmother died within a few years.
About the same time my grandmother received her breast cancer diagnosis, my mom found a lump that turned out to be breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy of her left breast. Ten years later, Mom found a lump in her right breast followed by another mastectomy. It's been 30 years since Mom's second mastectomy -- and she's been cancer-free ever since then.
When I received my own breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 55 I had two examples of tremendous heart, spirit and courage to follow. For me, that made all the difference.
My breast cancer diagnosis
I started getting annual mammograms after my mom received her second diagnosis. Each year, I almost expected to hear the words, "You have cancer."
That phone call finally came in June 2013. I had infiltrating ductal carcinoma.
By Dianna Ray
I had a very short breast cancer treatment journey -- a scant six weeks from diagnosis to cure, thanks to early detection following a routine mammogram and the care I received at MD Anderson in the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center's Multi Team Clinic. I'm lucky to have been able to get all of my care in one place close to my home in Houston.
Early detection saved my life
I've been getting annual mammograms since my 30s because I have fibrocystic breasts, a common condition that causes benign lumps or pain in the breasts.
About 10 years ago, my doctor found an area of microcalcifications (a small cluster of calcium) and ordered a biopsy. Thankfully, everything was fine.
So, when the same condition presented itself again on my most recent mammogram in August 2014, I wasn't too concerned. But five days after the biopsy, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer.
As 2013 drew to a close, everything was normal for then 32-year-old Jamie Bernard. She was a healthy, active mom, running 5Ks and reveling in a 45-pound weight loss. The MD Anderson employee never thought that a few months later she'd be diagnosed breast cancer.
When Jamie went for her annual well woman exam in January 2013, her doctor asked if she'd been checking for changes in her breasts.
"I lied and said yes," she admits. But the guilt of being untruthful led her to start looking for changes that November. And on December 3, she discovered a lump in her left breast.
A few weeks passed before Jamie decided to make an appointment to have the lump checked.
She recalls telling herself, "I work for MD Anderson. If it's something and I didn't get it checked out, I'm to blame."
Jamie's breast cancer treatment
For Jamie, January 2014 was the start of a whirlwind year. Not long after her breast cancer diagnosis, a type test revealed her cancer was growing as a result of the estrogen produced by her body, making her chances of cancer recurrence higher. This meant Jamie had no choice but to undergo a mastectomy. Her treatment plan also included 16 rounds of chemotherapy. Once her treatment was complete, she began a prescription for tamoxifen, a drug that is used to prevent breast cancer recurrence.
When Jamie received her cancer diagnosis, her thoughts immediately turned to her daughter, Caydin. There was no doubt Jamie would do whatever it took to be around to watch her grow up.
"I made a pact with God," she says. "If you keep waking me up, I will do whatever you need me to do."
By Gail Morse
After I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I chose to keep it to myself and not tell a lot of people. This wasn't my original plan, but after sharing this news with some people that I wasn't close to, I decided this was for the best. Their comments were like condolences, as if I were dying tomorrow.
It was too much to bear at the time, and I shut down completely after that. I chose not to tell others that I had breast cancer. I even decided not to tell some family members. I didn't want to deal with the after effect. I didn't want to hear feelings from other people about my cancer. I didn't want to think that letting them know could be better for them. I was the one with cancer over here.
Learning to share my journey with others
That non-disclosure period extended into halfway through my breast cancer treatment, until I met with a counselor through MD Anderson's Body Image Therapy Program. She suggested opening up to let others' goodwill and spirit help me through the journey.
I listened, and it did help. I had to learn how to manage my inner-response to others wanting to help and allow them to do so, but I did it on my terms.
By Carol A. Turni
I never thought I'd hear the words: "You have breast cancer." But when I did, they turned out to be one of those moments that defined my life. At 44 years old and with two young daughters, my cancer diagnosis was a frightening and sobering call-to-action.
Deciding to come to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment
After my breast cancer diagnosis came the scurry of tests, surgeries, treatments and medicines at a hospital in the city where I live. But after a while, I realized things didn't seem right. My husband and I both decided it was time to seek breast cancer treatment elsewhere.
That is how I found my way to MD Anderson, where I've received all of my care since then. I believe the corresponding change in my treatment course saved my life. I have consistently experienced the confidence and competency of my breast cancer care team. Their caring and the commitment to excellence is apparent. I am grateful.
My advice for traveling to MD Anderson
Traveling to MD Anderson isn't always easy, but it's worth it. Here are some tips that have made traveling for cancer treatment easier and more affordable for me:
Despite the challenges she faced, Houstonian Linda VandeGarde made the decision to focus on the bright side this year.
In January, on her birthday, Linda had a mammogram that revealed invasive ductal carcinoma in her left breast. Then, less than a month later, her mother passed away.
That's when Linda made the choice to be positive, no matter what. Early in her breast cancer treatment, following the advice of a book on breast cancer, she began keeping a journal and resolved to write about two silver linings she found each day -- a promise she's managed to keep.
"There were some days that were dark," she says, "but then I'd find little things, like a sparrow I saw or the church bells ringing."
By Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D.
To live long, healthy lives and lower their chances of recurrence, breast cancer survivors should focus on staying active and watching their weight, according to a report out today from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The report looks at research on whether physical activity, nutrition and overweight and obesity affect breast cancer and overall mortality in breast cancer survivors. The report found evidence to suggest that in women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer:
- Physical activity, a high fiber diet and eating more soy were associated with longer survival.
- Obesity is related to a greater chance of developing a second cancer of the breast, dying from breast cancer and shorter survival.
Staying healthy to prevent cancer recurrence
So, what does the report mean for cancer survivors? Should you exercise, and maintain a healthy diet and a healthy weight?
Breast cancer treatment can bring physical changes that can sometimes lead to poor body image, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. But MD Anderson's Body Image Therapy Program is here to help. Earlier this week, in honor of Love Your Body Day, the Body Image Therapy Program hosted a fashion show featuring some of our cancer patients and survivors. The models wore outfits that make them feel comfortable and relax.
Below, four of the models share what they picked and why they selected these outfits. They hope their insight will help other cancer patients dealing with body changes.
Ekua Buduarthur: One-shoulder style formal dress
"I feel very beautiful in this formal dress made using kente cloth from Ghana combined with silk dupioni. I chose the one shoulder style to cover the radiation burns, the cavity left from the mastectomy and the excess underarm flesh from the removal of the lymph nodes."
"Originally, from Ghana, I now live in Houston. I enjoy designing clothing, jewelry, reading and writing. Breast cancer has taken my creativity to a new level of how I look at the female body when I design clothing and jewelry."
Maria Linares: Mexican folkdance costume
"I chose a dress from one of the costumes that I wear when I perform Mexican folk dance. It is a traditional white lace dress from Veracurz, Mexico. Through all my chemo, radiation, and surgeries, my dancing is what lifted my spirit and helped me move forward. I felt and still feel beautiful when I put on my costume and dance. Dancing has lifted my self-esteem and grown my confidence in leaps and bounds."
By Gail Morse
I had to celebrate my 39th birthday with you, but you will not be at my 40th birthday bash next year. I plan to celebrate life and not you.
We have known each other for a very long time, since I was 19. I remember my mom calling me and saying you had come to visit her. Back then, I didn't know who you were,what you were capable of, or how to stop you. I thank God for giving her the strength to fight you.
I could not forgive or forget, like a thief in the night, when you stole something so dear and precious to me -- my mother. For two years, I fell into a dark abyss, consumed by grief, guilt and anger. In my warped mind, I blamed myself for her death. Thoughts swarmed in my head -- the what ifs, the I should have dones, the if I had knowns. Then you had the nerve to show up at my doorstep last year. How dare you, after all you've done.
But this time is different. I am older and wiser, and have a team to support me -- my family, friends and my personal army at MD Anderson. As the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
By Erika Archer Lewis
In August 2013, I tested positive for a BRCA genetic mutation, which increases the chances that I would develop breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Add that to a family history of aggressive breast cancer, and you have a recipe for constant worry and sleepless nights, anxiety and a feeling of helplessness.
In my conversations with other women like me, there was always a general sense of, "Whew, I made it another year" after each negative mammogram. That's psychologically draining and not a healthy way to live one's life. I wanted out of that stressful cycle, and fast, but I wasn't sure what my options were.
When I received my genetic testing results, my doctor looked me in the eyes and said: "Erika, you do realize, it's not if you get breast cancer, it's when?"
Houstonian Beth Williams didn't come to MD Anderson when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her mid-30s. But when she received a colon cancer diagnosis nearly 20 years later, she couldn't imagine going anywhere else. "I felt like if I was going to survive, I needed to be at MD Anderson," Beth says.
The 76-year-old CEO of an international language and logistics company now jokingly calls herself an MD Anderson "frequent flier." In the past two decades, she's been treated here for four different types of cancer. That includes colon cancer, breast cancer and -- just this past year -- kidney cancer and skin cancer. Her multiple cancer diagnoses don't appear to be based on genetics, just luck.
Still, Beth doesn't consider herself unlucky, and she doesn't let cancer run her life. Below, she shares her advice for thriving in the face of cancer.
Don't wait to go to MD Anderson.
Beth encourages newly diagnosed cancer patients to go straight to MD Anderson. "The care you get is amazing," she says. "I had so much confidence in everybody at MD Anderson, and no one ever has let me down or disappointed me."
Being diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 is unusual enough, but Raylene Hollrah was also diagnosed with an extremely rare type of lymphoma just a few years after her first cancer diagnosis and before her 40th birthday.
Raylene, an outgoing insurance advisor who prefers to be called Ray, is only the 25th person in the U.S. -- and the 61st in the world -- to be diagnosed with breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). It's a diagnosis that has changed her life in many ways.
"I always say cancer is like breaking a window," she says. "You've got shattered glass everywhere; you've got to clean up the mess and try to figure out how to fix it."
A breast cancer diagnosis -- and cause for breast implants
The discovery of a lump in her breast during an annual physical in 2007 launched Ray on a roller coaster ride that has tested her strength and spirit. After a negative mammogram and ultrasound, a needle biopsy came back positive for breast cancer.
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