Coping With Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

From the physical to the emotional and beyond

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Table of Contents

Triple-negative breast cancer is a difficult diagnosis to face. Because your tumor doesn't have the receptors that typically fuel the growth of breast cancers, treatment options for this particular type of cancer are limited. Coping with triple-negative breast cancer, then, involves not only navigating the physical and practical aspects of treatment, but some unique emotional ones that come with learning more about what might work–and what simply can't.

Physical

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 lowers the risk of the disease coming back, those treatments aren't effective at preventing a recurrence of triple-negative. Those treatments directly target the hormone receptors (estrogenprogesterone, and HER-2) that your cancer doesn't have.

Active treatment, which can span several months, requires planning. While you recover physically from your surgery and deal with side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, you may be unable to work and/or care for your home, young children, and pets without help. You may also need assistance with driving to and from chemotherapy treatments.

No one should try to go through treatment alone if they have support available to them. If possible, recruit several people to help rather than just one or two. It can make scheduling a lot easier and give you a backup 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

Emotional

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 fear from day one of your diagnosis onward.

To lessen fear and worry, 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, and knowing you have someone taking care of that can reduce stress.
  • 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, non-judgmental listeners and confide in them about what you're feeling and experiencing.

Many find that educating themselves about triple-negative breast cancer helps cultivate feelings of empowerment.

Reach out to organizations that have information, programs, and support services for those dealing with triple-negative cases, so you can get the specific information and assistance you need.

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.

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 an online meeting platform like Skype. 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

Not to be overlooked, you'll also face a lot of practical, day-to-day concerns. Some important things to take care of early on are checking on things like your insurance coverage, medical leave options, 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 or pick-up services so you don't have to walk through the store yourself, or to help out friends who may be 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 so you are sure to have the type of assistance you need when you need it.

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