When a mother and daughter were diagnosed with breast cancer within six weeks of each other, they quickly learned that the only thing their cancers have in common is that they are a disease by the same name. Read more about how this family had to learn from experience that no two cancers are the same.
Upon receiving news of an initial cancer diagnosis, we are forced to become educated about all things cancer related. This is especially hard when you are as oblivious to it as I was. I was the kind of girl walking around thinking cancer would never happen to me. I thought that since I was young and had no family history, I didn't have to pay attention to anything but the pink yogurt tops, pink football jerseys and pink ribbons that I opted to buy to make myself feel like I was doing my part in finding a cure.
That all changed two years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. I was forced into a world of knowledge that I was oblivious to and one I previously had no true interest in understanding. Even with all I was learning about my cancer, I still couldn't really grasp it.
I thought all breast cancers were the same.
I knew breast cancer existed in stages and that was pretty much it. As I struggled to understand my own breast cancer, my mother was diagnosed six weeks later. By the time my mom was diagnosed, I had an idea what "grade," "hormone receptors" and the "staging" meant, but as we were learning all of the details of her cancer, we soon learned that the only thing we had in common was that we both had invasive ductal carcinoma. Neither of us had any idea how complex our diagnosis was.
I didn't just have breast cancer - I had stage IIA, grade 3, triple negative breast cancer. My mother didn't just have breast cancer -she had stage 1, grade 1, estrogen positive breast cancer. And just as our cancers had little in common, neither did our treatments. People assumed because we shared the same cancer by name that we also shared the same treatment. When they ask me about my mother and how it was to go through treatment together, they always look at me sideways when I tell them "I have no idea."
I received a lumpectomy, 20 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of radiation and participated in a clinical trial for those with a high risk of recurrence. My mother, on the other hand, had a double mastectomy after learning she had suspicious cells in her opposite breast. Her reconstruction came months later and she is now taking Arimadex daily.
You can't define breast cancer - or any cancer.
There are so many misconceptions about cancer and that's frightening. Just as no two people are the same, neither are any two cancers - not even ones with the same name. Each of us experience side effects differently and our treatment plans or choices are not one in the same.
For those of us who have survived or have been touched by this disease, we understand this. We understand that those with a grim prognosis may survive and those with an optimistic prognosis may not. We understand that a treatment that works for one person may not work for the next. We understand that statistics and numbers are just that and just because something happens to a majority does not mean it will happen to us.
We understand that there is only one universal way to define all breast cancers and that is to say that no matter what grade, hormone receptors or stage a cancer is - it is always hard.