Coping With Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Managing your anxiety while navigating the diagnostic process

In This Article

Table of Contents
concerned young woman talking to doctor

Steve Debenport/Getty Images

Triple-negative breast cancer is a difficult diagnosis to face. Treatments are limited and, as with any form of cancer, it's frightening.

The name triple negative breast cancer means that your tumor doesn't have the receptors that typically fuel the growth of breast cancers, which are estrogenprogesterone, and HER-2.

The typical early cancer treatments—surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy—can be effective for this disease subtype. However, while many breast-cancer patients will go on to have hormone therapy that lower the risk of it coming back, those treatments aren't effective at preventing a recurrence of triple-negative. That's because those treatments directly target the hormone receptors that your cancer doesn't have.

Emotional

You'll benefit from learning how to cope emotionally during the diagnostic and treatment process as well as after all that as over.

Educate yourself about triple-negative breast cancer and its unique elements, so you can be an informed patient and a partner in your care. Reach out to organizations that have information, programs, and support services for those dealing with triple negative, rather than just surfing the net for answers to the many questions you have as you face treatment.

When surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are finished, so is your treatment. Since triple-negative survivors don't have continuing therapy to reduce the incidence of a recurrence, that can be a source of ongoing fear.

To lessen fear and worry during the diagnosis and treatment process, it can help to:

  • Schedule tests as soon as possible to minimize the time you spend waiting without answers 
  • Avoid surfing the web trying to find symptoms similar to yours, as every situation is different and you can end up increasing your anxiety
  • Bring someone with you to doctors appointments who can take notes about the next steps in the process; it's easy to forget details when you're feeling overwhelmed and anxious
  • Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as it takes for you to understand your disease and your treatment plan
  • Get a second opinion from another physician who has extensive experience in treating patients with triple negative breast cancer so you can have confidence in your diagnosis
  • Talk to your doctor about treatment and management options for depression and anxiety, if they're problems for you
  • Choose two “go to” people who are good listeners and not judgmental and confide in them about what you're feeling and experiencing; avoid sharing details with acquaintances and those who want to talk about other women’s cancer stories with you, as those things can be detrimental to your mental health

    After your treatment is over, give yourself time to adjust. You probably aren't the same person you were before your diagnosis, so don't expect to "get back to normal." You have a new normal now that includes being a cancer survivor.

    If you're struggling emotionally during any part of the process, consider seeing a mental health counselor who can help you get through it.

    Physical

    Active treatment requires planning. You will need help while you recover physically from your surgery, and when dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. No one should try to go through treatment alone. It can span several months, during which you may be unable to work, and/or care for your home and young children without help. You may need assistance with driving to and from chemotherapy treatments.

    If possible, recruit several people to help rather than just one or two. It can make scheduling a lot easier and give you a back up in case someone gets sick or has something come up.

    Important things to do, before, during, and after treatment, include:

    • Keeping your medical appointments
    • Eating a balanced diet
    • Exercising regularly (talk to your doctor about what is appropriate at what stage)
    • Not smoking
    • Limiting alcohol consumption
    • Getting enough rest

    Breast Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide

    Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

    Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

    Social

    Support groups for women treated for triple negative breast cancer can play a key role in healing. Being in an online group or a face-to-face group with others that share common experiences can be a huge help at every stage of the process.

    If you're part of a local group and can't make a meeting due to treatment side effects or surgical recovery, see if you can attend via Skype, Zoom, on another electronic meeting platform. That way, you still have access to the group when things may be at their worst.

    As you get better, consider joining walking groups, exercise classes for people with chronic illness, or local branches of advocacy organizations.

    Practical

    You'll likely have a lot of practical, day-to-day concerns, as well. Some important things to take care of early on are checking on things like your insurance coverage, medical leave options and vacation/sick-time accrual at work, and short-term disability insurance.

    If you need more medical insurance than you currently have, explore government programs, both federal and state.

    Talk to your employer about the possibility of light duty, working part-time, or working from home at times when you're well enough to do so but can't handle a full-time schedule. Also, look into reasonable accommodations that can help you work as much as possible.

    At home, cook and freeze meals before starting treatment. Make sure they're not spicy or strongly seasoned, because those things may be difficult for you to tolerate when you have chemotherapy side effects.

    If possible, hire a housekeeper or find someone who can help out around the house. Look into grocery delivery services or pick-up services so you don't have to walk through the store yourself, or to help out the people who are doing your shopping for you.

    For times when you may need constant care, such as after surgery, work out a schedule for those who are helping. People often don't know what they can do to be helpful, and that can leave you without the help you need at a bad time.

    Was this page helpful?

    Article Sources