I was diagnosed with triple-negative invasive breast cancer, stage 3c. I didn’t even know what it meant, I just cried when I heard the news. Days later, I would start the whole process: scanning tests, x-raying, chemotherapy, etc. I didn’t know anyone who had cancer before, I felt swimming alone in this unknown dark sea. Until one day, my oncology therapist told me it was a good idea to use social networking to talk about our experiences and meet new people. Sometimes it is good for our mental health to be open about our disease and keep a journal. It made sense. I started using my IG account to talk about my new cancer journey, and the magic flowed: I meet wonderful women who were cancer patients as well. They were supportive, cheered me up, and wish me well! To my surprise, there was a community of triple-negative breast cancer thrivers! The @tnbc_thrivers! I started following this account and realize I wasn’t alone. I had found my tribe. Cancer is a very complex disease with a diversity of diagnosis, yet cancer patients can learn from each other about how to deal with their condition. For that reason, I am so glad to share with you this interview with Kelly Thomas, founder, and administrator of @tnbc_thrivers, who talk with us about her experience. I hope you enjoy this little chat! If you want to know more about Kelly, you can follow her @talkischeapxo or @tnbc_thrivers
1. What type of cancer were you diagnosed with?
I was diagnosed with Stage 3C Triple Negative Breast Cancer
2. Did you ever think to keep your diagnosis as a secret or did you decide to deal with it openly?
When I was initially diagnosed with breast cancer I didn’t think twice and took to social media. I had no idea there was a breast cancer community at the time, I merely shared everything that I was going through on my journey to show my friends and family what exactly my journey looked like. I have always been an oversharer and to my delight I found other women that were going through exactly what I was!
3. What was the hardest moment from your treatment?
My double mastectomy was really hard for me. In my treatment, I did chemotherapy first and had time to prepare myself for my upcoming surgery which I knew I had to have a double mastectomy. I was so scared. Scared for the unknown, not knowing how I’d feel and what not. Not knowing how I’d look so in my head I prepared for the worst.
4. Where did you seek information about your cancer?
I did a lot of computer research on Google, I wanted to learn everything about Triple Negative Breast Cancer. There were a lot of scary statistics on my cancer.
5. In your experience, what are the cancer patient’s biggest fears?
Not surviving cancer. Succumbing to the disease and being yet another statistic.
6. What helped you to stay positive during treatment?
I have an amazing Oncologist that made treatment days not so bad. I worked on my self care and made my mind up that I would see the good in everyday and appreciate life. We often take for granted being young and healthy and thinking that we will be giving many years to our lives but then we learn time is promised to no one. No matter if I beat this disease or not, I vowed to smile and be happy for the rest of my days.
7. Why did you decide to create the community Triple Negative Breast Cancer Thrivers (@tnbc_thrivers)?
When I was diagnosed with TNBC, there weren’t many survival stories out there. I knew there must be women doing well after TNBC. Triple Negative Breast Cancer only makes up for 10-15% of breast cancer cases and we have the highest recurrence rates with the lowest survival rates – we need special support. Many women that have TNBC have much fear and anxiety about their survival chances. I wanted to make a group that shared stories of women THRIVING after their TNBC diagnosis. Bad news travels faster than good news, these women that share their stories deserve to be on a platform for all to read.
8. You have raised up your voice to spread breast cancer awareness, what have you learned from the experience?
I’ve learned there are so many different types of breast cancer, I’ve learned that young women such as myself can and do get breast cancer EVEN with no family history or genetic mutation, I’ve learned that we all have different treatment plans and each cancer even if similar will respond differently to treatment. I’ve learned that even when cancer treatment ends we never go back to the way we used to live, especially young women, we need support from now until forever.
9. Do you have any advice for women about breast cancer and health care?
Advocate for yourself and do your monthly breast exams! I was surprised to hear that so many women do not check themselves and think that their annual checkup at their doctor is all they need to do!
10. What are the concerns of breast cancer survivors?
Breast cancer survivors worry about cancer recurrence and managing treatment side effects. Many doctors refer to these side effects as our “new normal”. As they can be frustrating, we need to manage what new ailments we have going forward so we can continue to thrive after cancer.
11. What advice would you give to newly diagnosed cancer patients?
Accepting that you have cancer is not easy, try not to read into a lot of the statistics, there are many women living fruitful lives after cancer. It’s okay to feel emotional during this time, as we will have these feelings for life, there is a community of breast cancer thrivers out there ready to lift you up and inspire you! This is a club which no one wants to be members of but it is also lifelong sisterhood that will embrace you for who you are!