“Cancer is no respecter of persons,” my mom said to me recently when she was in town to take me to a doctor’s appointment. She’s certainly right.
I don’t spend a lot of time these days on the “why me?” questions. Honestly, my life until this point has been so free of trauma, sickness and grief that sometimes I wonder how it’s taken this long for something bad to show up.
But I do wonder about the medical reasons and causes for my breast cancer. Until this came along, I thought I was healthy.
I’m a long distance runner (though admittedly a slow one). There’s a rack full of running medals hanging on my wall. My last half marathon was in November. I was looking forward this Labor Day weekend to finally running the hilly course of my town’s 15-miler, the Charleston Distance Run.
At 35, I’m not even old enough that doctors recommend regular mammograms. When I found a lump in my right breast earlier this year and told my gynecologist, he initially told me it was probably just breast tissue, but he referred me on for further tests just to be safe. (I’m so glad he did).
No one in my family has had breast cancer. I can only think of two other family members who had cancer at all. One was a great uncle who died the year before last. The other was my grandfather, a coal miner and longtime smoke who had both black lung and lung cancer. The latter probably hardly had to do with genetics.
After my diagnosis, I was tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations that increase the changes of cancer. Both were negative.
Then there’s the type of breast cancer that I have: triple negative. That means the tumor isn’t fueled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone or the HER2 protein. Triple negative breast cancers account for 10 to 20 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses, according to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. They have a higher rate among young women and black women.
Triple negative cancer is more difficult to treat and has poorer prognosis than other types within the first years of treatment because there are fewer drugs that target it. I’m trying not to dwell on that last part.
But it’s really of no real use to ponder why. I have breast cancer. The why makes no difference in the end.