Try to remain positive. Look at this: Overall 86.8 percent of patients with hormone-negative tumors were disease-free ten years after diagnosis, according to research presented at the Fifth European Breast Cancer Conference . This comes even with some advanced cancers. Of those survivors with hormone-negative tumors who were disease-free after five years, 35 percent had had lymph node involvement, and 11 percent had grade 3 tumors.
So focus on survival and taking care of yourself right now. Some tips on doing that:
• Get your pathology report. Thebreastcaresite.com has some great information on how to understand it. Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book also offers a comprehensive explanation. The report is where you will learn your hormone receptor status, plus the size of your tumor and how aggressive it is. You can get your report from any of your doctors. Get is as soon as you are diagnosed, read it carefully, and ask your doctors to explain what you don’t understand.
• Plan on chemo. It works. Newer forms (high-doses of cytoxan and adriamycin every two weeks plus taxol) are especially effective, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This regimen reduced the risk of death by 55 percent as compared with older forms (low-doses of cytoxan and adriamycin plus fluorouracil every three weeks) in women with hormone-negative cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes. Typically, women whose cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes do not need taxol.
• Get your body in shape. Exercise helps reduce the risk of recurrence, improves your mood throughout treatment, and keeps you from gaining weight during chemotherapy. Weight gain during chemo? Yes, that is sort of adding insult to injury but it is true. In a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology of 514 breast cancer survivors three years after diagnosis, 68 percent gained an average of 8.6 pounds, with a maximum increase of 60 pounds. Women treated with chemotherapy gained the most, adding an average of 4 percent to their pre-diagnosis weight.
• Get your mind in shape. Being positive makes this all a lot easier. Look to family and friends for support, be open to what they give, and be patient with their occasional stumbles. This is new and stressful for them too. If you’re the least bit religious, remember the importance of prayer. I’ve written on how prayer helped me . Meditation and yoga can also help you maintain your sanity. Its basic emphasis: balance.
• Go outside. ”Natural intervention,” or spending two hours a week in nature watching birds, tending to plants or gardens, sitting by a window with a view of trees or a garden can cut the fatigue that is often associated with cancer treatment.
• Watch your diet. Women with hormone negative benefited the most from a low-fat diet, with a 42 percent reduction in recurrence, according research in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
• Before surgery, check into brachytherapy instead of standard radiation. It cuts radiation time from five or six weeks to one, and it is far less invasive. Doctors embed radiation seeds into the breast, so this needs to be coordinated with your surgeon. I waited too late to ask for it and my wound had already healed, so I had to go the traditional route.
• Consider acupuncture. It can help ease the nausea of chemo and it can you relax and find peace. I visited my acupuncturist before each treatment and she made me feel calmer, no matter what.
• Live your life. Your chances of that life being a normal length are far better than you might think right now. Continue doing what you did before, only try to make it a little healthier.