I spent many dark days searching for survivors of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) online. It’s the worst kind, the most aggressive with the worst survival rates, the one that is more common in younger women. Yet young women are not aware of it. I had never heard about it until it happened to me. I thought all breast cancers were the same. Sure why would I know any different? In the interest of raising some real awareness during ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’, I want to make you aware of something you don’t find out about when you buy a pink ribbon. During my frantic search of message boards and Facebook groups to find survivors of TNBC, I found out something which shocked me. And one of the other clients at the clinic I attend in Istanbul reminded me of it yesterday. I found that TNBC is common among women who had small children and were in their 30’s. I am one of three Irish women who are attending the clinic who have children under 3. I am convinced that there is something about pregnancy which is linked to it’s growth and progression. You won’t find any studies online which prove this, it is my own suspicion but it is shared by other young mothers with TNBC.
Sadly, when you present to a doctor with a breast lump, you will fall into the low risk category for a referral to the breast clinic because of your age and because there is only one lump. And you will be told it is probably a fibrous adenoma or it is linked to breastfeeding. A blocked milk duct maybe. You won’t be seen urgently and in the couple of months it takes for your appointment to roll around, your early stage TNBC will now be stage 4. And we all know that early detection increases rates of survival. Yet more and more 30 something women are added to waiting lists which can take 14 weeks or more. It is scandalous. So what can you do about it? Is being aware enough? I would ask you if you are a new mother and you are worried about a breast lump, you have a couple of options. If you want to investigate yourself, get a thermography scan to see if there’s any increased vascular activity in the breast area. This won’t diagnose breast cancer but can give you an indication if there is any abnormal activity and you can go from there. Otherwise, see your GP and push for an appointment in the breast clinic. A biopsy and PET scan are the only ways of diagnosis. I’m not saying this to scare you but the reality is that breast cancer isn’t something that only happens to women in their 60’s and the **HSE criteria for women in the high risk category is all wrong. Women who get breast cancer in their later years generally have a slower rate of growth with a higher rate of survival. It’s the younger women that get the more aggressive type and it spreads fast. It will spread right through your body while you’re on that 14 week waiting list. Please share this with any new mother you know, it’s a category of women that doesn’t even exist on the HSE at risk list yet it is the most deadly.
P.S, I’m back in Istanbul having maintenance chemotherapy treatment for a few days on the recommendation of the doctors. I have mixed feelings about being back, I had hoped to be done here but I’m having another couple of sessions to take care of any rogue cancer cells which may have evaded the last PET scan, it is only accurate to 4mm. I gave myself the option not to come back which was a huge relief and I took almost a month off which was wonderful! I might regret not coming back so here I am! Having no regrets. Home again tomorrow. Yeay! xx
** Please have a look at the HSE document I linked, it is quite shocking. If you’re under 35, you need to have signs of advanced breast cancer before you can get an urgent referral.