Survivor Stories 2013:
How did you first find out you had cancer?
I discovered the lump myself, quite by accident, and things moved very quickly after that. I had a sense of what was coming by watching the silent signals of doctors and technicians. My general physician had the good sense to call me personally rather than allowing me to get the news from the hospital. That’s a big improvement over my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, which I received via email, but that’s another story.
How did you react when you heard the news?
It’s funny…you’d think you would cry or punch the wall or collapse to the floor in a heap, but that’s not what happened. My husband, Jim, and I held each other for awhile, and then I got busy making phone calls to my children. That’s something no mother wants to do, and that’s when the reality truly hit home. It was hard to maintain my composure during those calls. That evening we decided to go out for ice cream. It seemed a perfectly reasonable treat for what we were about to experience.
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I had a mastectomy, 16 rounds of chemotherapy, and 35 radiation treatments over a 10-month period. The tumor cells in triple-negative breast cancer don’t respond to long-term treatments generally used to prevent recurrence in other types of breast cancer.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
A lot surprised me about treatment. Prior to my diagnosis, I had no idea there were different types of breast cancer that required different treatment. Nothing can prepare you for the moment when you walk into that cavernous chemotherapy room and glimpse the faces of people fighting for their lives. You instantly realize the magnitude of cancer, its effect on individuals, and the impact on society.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
You need to look at the big picture, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Focus on getting through one phase of treatment before worrying about the next. Most importantly, don’t let yourself fall into a holding pattern where you become all about cancer and nothing else. You’re alive, so continue to participate in things you enjoy. If your favorite activities become too much for you, seek out simpler pleasures–life is full of them.
How long have you been cancer free?
This October marks the three-year anniversary of my diagnosis. When it comes to triple-negative breast cancer, that’s a significant milestone. To top off that good news, my multiple sclerosis is in remission, so I’m the picture of health.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I already knew this, but cancer gave it strong reinforcement. I have a good life. I love and I am loved and I’m grateful for each day I’m here.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Don’t let your body be a stranger. Get to know it–it’s the only vehicle you’ll ever have to get you through this life. It’s easy to dismiss something like a breast lump when your days are already filled to overflowing and you can’t afford another time suck. Some breast cancers, like triple-negative, can grow very quickly. I’m convinced that the speed at which I sought out and received medical care saved my life. If the lump had turned out to be nothing, it still would have been worth the time it took to find out. Your family will thank you.
Ann Pietrangelo is a freelance writer and author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis. Her second book, Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer is in the works. She sincerely hopes this theme doesn’t turn into a series. Her dream is to produce a work of fiction. Ann lives in Williamsburg, Virginia with her husband and partner-in-all-things, Jim. Find her at AnnPietrangelo.com.