The breast cancer survival rate of 5 years for American women with non-metastatic invasive breast cancer is 91%, and for ten years is 85%. The survival rate depends on various factors like type and stage of cancer, age of the person, and overall health status of breast cancer survivors.
If the cancer is only in the breast, the five-year survival rate is 99%. Around 66% of women get diagnosed at this stage. Nearly 47% of women of childbearing age get diagnosed with breast cancer, and 68% are above 65.
In this blog, we share stories of breast cancer survivors — how each patient triumphed over cancer, how their families supported them, and what happened from the breast cancer treatment to the last stage of recovery.
also know about : Financial Planning for Life After Breast Cancer Diagnosis
The Journey Begins With Diagnosis
Catharsis is the process of sharing your side of the story. It is the process of venting to the world so people know what you went through and how you conquered it all. In this case, catharsis can help other breast cancer survivors cope with their illness.
Here are five stories of breast cancer survivors from their first diagnosis.
Miriam was 27 when she felt a lump in her right breast. She contacted her gynecologist, who suggested getting an ultrasound done. The ultrasound results came back normal. A year later, she told her gynecologist that the lump was still there, and some new ones had appeared. The gynecologist ordered another ultrasound, which also came back normal. The gynecologist then assured her that her breasts were dense and showed no breast cancer.
However, Miriam still was not convinced. On her third visit to the gynecologist, Mariam had more symptoms. She had a dark spot on her areola, crustiness, and discharge from her nipple. She even experienced shooting pains in her chest. This time, her doctor ordered an MRI. An urgent biopsy, an urgent mammogram, and an urgent ultrasound followed the MRI. Her doubts had finally settled. Only this time, she had HER2-positive breast cancer and Paget’s disease.
Amy had a regular physical examination with her doctor when they discovered a lump in her left breast. The doctor ordered a diagnostic mammogram. The mammogram showed swelling. The doctor ordered an ultrasound. The results of the ultrasound were unexpected. The doctors then did a biopsy that came back as hormone receptor-positive, HER-2-negative breast cancer. Amy was shocked to hear this diagnosis as she did not have a family history of breast cancer.
Gautami was a 32-year-old single mother with a three-year-old daughter. She used to be very careful about her health. She started checking herself, doing self-examinations of her breasts, annual check-ups, and blood work. At 35, Gautami found a lump in her breast. She visited her doctor. The doctor performed all the tests, and each was positive for malignancy.
Battling Breast Cancer
After the diagnosis, the breast cancer survivor is made aware of the treatment options. Depending on the severity of the cancer, the doctor decides on the most appropriate course of treatment that suits the patient.
The treatment options often are:
- Radiation therapy
Each treatment plan affects all breast cancer survivors in its unique ways. Let’s explore some personal accounts.
Donna was 73 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer — invasive lobular carcinoma. Her first doctor advised her to be prepared for a mastectomy. But a nurse then suggested she go in for a second opinion.
The second doctor became her final doctor. The doctor suggested a double mastectomy and a reconstruction surgery. Both the surgeries were a success.
As a part of her ongoing treatment, she took Anastrozole (estrogen blocker) for five years. What followed was hot flashes. Then, the doctor advised a Gabapentin that stopped the hot flashes.
Her doctors suggested she undergo genetic testing to keep her family members informed and to check if she acquired cancer genetically. The results said that she did not and that it was a type typically found in older women. She still advised her daughters and nieces to undergo regular mammograms to rule out the possibility of developing breast cancer.
Even today, she regularly follows up with her oncologist, who assures her that she is healing well.
At the age of 40, Cheron came to know that she had ductal carcinoma in situ, stage 0. She required a mastectomy. She went for a second opinion, where the mastectomy was suggested again. She was confused and did not know what to do. At the last moment, she came in contact with a breast cancer survivor called Kanesha. Kanesha was the same age as Cheron and had recently undergone a mastectomy.
She felt fully prepared for the surgery. But a few minutes before the operation commenced, her hands became cold. One of the nurses came in and rubbed her hands, and Cheron began to relax due to the anesthesia. Six hours later, a reconstruction surgery followed. For six months of post-operative recovery, she managed pain with medication.
Angela was 43 years old when she felt a tenderness in her left breast. She went for a check-up and found that she was battling triple-negative breast cancer, stage 3, that had spread into her lymph nodes. This aggressive form of breast cancer does not respond to many treatment plans.
Since she was a pharmacist, she built an aggressive plan to fight off the cancer. After two weeks of the diagnosis, she began 20 weeks of intense chemotherapy. Chemotherapy was followed by the first of the four surgeries. In this surgery, her left breast was removed along with 47 lymph nodes. In the second year, more surgeries were conducted, followed by 30 doses of radiation therapy.
She felt like she was fighting cancer with a nuclear bomb. During the treatment and surgeries, she tackled extreme fatigue, loss of hair, and constant nosebleeds.
By summer, she was cancer-free, and the port inserted in her chest that acted as the portal for harsh cancer-fighting chemicals was removed.
The Emotional Rollercoaster
Breast cancer diagnosis takes a toll on breast cancer survivors, not just physically but also mentally. The mind becomes anxious, sad, stressed, nervous, weak, angry, and tormented.
A breast cancer survivor goes through all five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Ways of coping with breast cancer
Face your cancer
Every cancer patient responds differently to their first diagnosis. Some try to acquire all the knowledge they can, while others need longer to come to terms with and accept it.
In both cases, there is an emotional adjustment. Facing cancer when they are ready may help them overcome some of the emotional stress. Denial can be a positive coping strategy and give the patient enough time to deal with the stress of battling cancer.
Research says that optimistic patients better adjust to their illness and have a more positive medical outcome. A breast cancer patient must face each fear to the best of their ability. Even though the treatment is daunting, you must do your best to stay hopeful for your loved ones and yourself.
Studies show that women who express their feelings about their illness have a better emotional adjustment than those who suppress their concerns. It would greatly help your doctors and loved ones if you expressed your unfiltered thoughts and perceptions about your struggle.
Try not to think about when you attempted to express yourself but were met with negative consequences. For instance, you were probably criticized for being expressive. Since then, you bottle up your emotions. Try to break this pattern, as it will go a long way in your fight against cancer.
Your cancer needs you to express yourself.
Apart from the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff, breast cancer survivors need the support of their near and dear ones.
The constant support, love, care, nourishment, and presence of friends and family can add to the patient’s mental strength. Their role is not just to be present for doctor’s visits or doing chores the patient cannot do; it is also offering emotional support, lending an ear, and being there when they need them the most.
Family and friends are significant sources of strength for breast cancer survivors.
They help them feel less lonely and anxious and motivate them to heal faster. Patience and understanding on the part of family and friends is crucial. The cancer patient loses hope on some days. That’s when friends and family need to step up.
Life After Cancer
Life after breast cancer is never the same as the life before it. Let us hear some stories about life post-treatment and the process of recovery of some breast cancer survivors.
Wanda has stage 3 breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy, reconstruction surgery, and aggressive chemotherapy sessions. Support from her family and friends pushed her to fight.
As a breast cancer survivor, she became a role model for other women battling the disease. She participated in several walks for the breast cancer cause. She and her friends walked for 60 miles. While walking, they shared stories about their breast cancer journeys. At the end of the walk, Wanda realized that cancer would always be a part of her life but would not be the center of it.
Karen had aggressive, inflammatory breast cancer at 49. Doctors told her that it would come back after three years. She underwent three rounds of chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy. After that, she went in for radiotherapy. Her recovery is still on. She goes for her four-weekly injections and has been on Exemestane tablets for five years. It has been three years, and the cancer is not back. She still has breathlessness and fatigue, but with the help of doctors, she is doing better.
After the struggle and for some even during it, breast cancer survivors share their journey with everyone in the hope that they can advocate for early detection, better treatment options, and a complete life post-diagnosis.
Becoming an advocate helps them raise awareness about cancer and related issues. Breast cancer survivors are advocates for other breast cancer patients. They help make medical care accessible and ensure optimal care quality. They assist in increasing the chances of survival. They also lend a helping hand in rehabilitation, recovery, and psychological adaptation.
Activities carried out by breast cancer advocates:
- Driving clinical trial participation
- Educating breast cancer patients
- Identifying barriers
- Developing a solid support community
- Encouraging breast cancer survivors to share their stories
After having conquered the deadly life-threatening disease, breast cancer survivors or warriors can become breast cancer advocates. Thereby, they can try to successfully reach out to people of all ages to let them know that there is a safe space where they can share their sorrows and make coping with breast cancer seem possible.