Why do you say you are an average person?
Because I am. I never finished college because the money ran out. I got a job and supported myself. I was fortunate to be able to quit working 9 to 5 when I had babies, but I turned myself into an independent computer consultant. Nothing fancy there; I advertised as someone to help folks learn to use the computer and fix it when the darn thing breaks, which they do more often than a lemony car. Yes, I wrote and proudly published three fantasy romances, but I am hardly alone in doing so. I am just as proud that my husband and I raised two fantastic, capable girls.
What is the best advice you could give someone diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer?
Keep your chin up. Don’t get discouraged, instead, get mad at cancer. Try to smile, even when you feel too lousy to fight. And don’t forget that others are behind you, pushing when you need it, and pulling you through the nasty segments of treatment.
What do you think others will get from your book?
A diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer is a scary proposition. If someone takes the time to learn the basics about the disease, she will find that it is aggressive, tends to pop up at will, and is a killer.
Even with that knowledge, she will be given a pat on the hand and told, “Not to worry, we have everything under control.” The doctors won’t tell her that her tumor is fast growing and that treating it is not as simple as it is with other breast cancers. She might drift through treatment. She won’t know enough to understand how important it is that she do every bit of treatment as well as she can.
I can’t fault the doctors for not being honest. It is a blow to be told that the tumor in your breast is more dangerous. Some women might fall apart and give up the fight, which is not a good way to go. But for someone like myself, who felt impelled to educate myself, dragging the information together is tedious and time-consuming. I have done the hard work. I hope another woman diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer can benefit from reading what I learned.
It is really important to drag yourself through treatment. A woman might say, “But I feel so awful. If I wait another week before getting the next chemo treatment, I’ll do better.” The doctor will disagree with that decision, but if the woman doesn’t show up at the hospital, what can the doctor do? You can’t do things like that with triple negative. It’s too aggressive to fool with.
I hope the book educates another woman to act intelligently, even if she doesn’t want to. Also, being a writer, I hope she enjoys the read. Dear Cancer is not a cut and dried medical manual.
Is that all there is to the book? A ‘Go team, go’ cheer?
Dear Cancer reveals the process a breast cancer patient will go through. When a woman is diagnosed, she won’t know much about what will happen. The doctor will mention surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, but what do those entail? The book explains them.
She will be faced with MRI tests, chest ports, CAT scans, and endless blood tests. The book explains what they are for and how they are done.
What if her arm swells after surgery? Can she avoid having her tear ducts close up? How does she treat a radiation burn? Dear Cancer is stuffed full of tips for recognizing and dealing with side effects.
And as I said before, it’s not just medical stuff. It’s my story. I hope it is interesting and entertaining.
What if my cancer isn’t triple negative?
Go ahead and read the book. You can cheer that you don’t have to worry about some of the things in it, but you will still learn the process for getting rid of cancer. You will still have the information about all those side effects. Hopefully, you will be entertained along the way.
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Why is triple negative worse than other kinds of breast cancer?
There are a few reasons. First, it tends to grow fast. For example, I had two tumors; the smaller one was a ball half an inch wide. The doctor checked the mammogram I had done a year earlier and found no evidence of cancer. One has to believe the tumor grew that large in one year. Testing of it showed that more than 50% of that tumor was actively growing. Typically, triple negative tumors show growth in 50-90% of the whole, versus an average 20-30% for other types of tumors.
The upside of this rapid growth is that chemotherapy is more effective against triple negative tumors. The high level of activity attracts the drugs.
Second, triple negative tumors pop up again more easily than others. They can show up anywhere in the body, not just in the breast, even though there is no evidence that the cancer has spread.
The third reason triple negative is considered worse than other breast tumors is because there are fewer treatment options. The hormonal pills many women take to keep cancer from recurring don’t affect triple negative. If surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation don’t eliminate the cancer, what do you do? I guess you would have to repeat the process with more surgery, more chemo, and perhaps more radiation.
How did you handle being diagnosed with cancer?
I probably reacted as most people do. I was scared to death. Thinking about the future made me want to cry, but I tried to hide my fear from my family. I also gave myself stern lectures to keep a stiff upper lip. After a while, I settled down. Having to deal with a huge number of doctor’s appointments and various pains and discomforts distracted me. Sometime during chemo, I realized I wasn’t scared anymore. A person can only hang over the edge for so long. Eventually, you slide off the edge and chug along the best you can.
I noticed that you talk about cancer genetics in Dear Cancer. What is that?
Researchers found two mutated genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, that cause people to be more likely to develop breast cancer. Because I have a strong family history of the disease—my mother, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother all suffered from breast cancer—I was tested for those genes. I don’t have either of them, which makes me think there must be something else that hasn’t been discovered yet.
Do you have any idea why cancer grew in you?
Other than being cursed with a family who seems prone to get breast cancer, there isn’t a whole lot known about what causes it. Being overweight and less active might play a role. Research shows that a high fat diet might encourage triple negative tumors. But, really, who knows? Even having BRCA genes doesn’t mean that you are doomed to grow cancer.
Do you have any lingering problems from your battle with cancer?
Of course I do. No one goes through such a drastic process without growing scars. I have neuropathy—damage to nerves—in my fingers and toes, arms and legs, and maybe the corner of my mouth. You’ll notice my difficulties when I can’t hold a pen well, walk down stairs funny, drop things and drool a bit. I am fortunate that my neuropathy is not painful. It is for many people.
Also, I have lingering Chemo Brain.
What is Chemo Brain?
That’s the sixty million dollar question, as far as I am concerned. Chemo brain is thought to be nerve damage in the brain. It affects people differently. For me, I lost words. I totally forgot that it is “discourteous.” I tried uncourteous and then incourteous. My daughter had to correct me. I know that England has a queen—I know her name, of course I do—but I can’t spit it out. The Oxford Essential Thesaurus has gained a prominent spot on my desk because I can’t come up with an alternative word.
Other than that, I think I am back in menopause. I can’t remember appointments; I have trouble concentrating on a conversation. I feel like a dumb blonde.
What would you do if your cancer came back?
I would do everything over again. I wouldn’t be as worried about surgery or radiation, but I would have to drag myself into the Chemotherapy room. I might even kick and scream, but I would do it. There isn’t any other choice. On a second go-around, I would question some of the drugs I was given. “Hey Doc, can we wait and see if I really need Dexamethasone before I start popping the pills? Please?”
Why did you name the book Dear Cancer?
Being the typical writer, I started a diary after my mammogram showed problems. The first thing I wrote was a letter to cancer. Like any letter, it started out “Dear Cancer,” When it came time to give the manuscript a name, I couldn’t think of anything better. Please note, I have never been good at coming up with clever book titles.
Why did you decide to self-publish Dear Cancer?
I had a publisher for my romances. Beyond doing production and distribution work, they did nothing. No advertising, no support other than ‘Rah, team, rah,’ emails. I figured I could do as well. CreateSpace (Amazon paperback,) KDP (Kindle) and Smashwords.com (the other ebook versions) handle distribution. I formatted the book (an act of Hercules for the paperback,) slaved over the cover, and applied for a copyright. There is a myriad of details to deal with but I can do it. The hardest part of publishing is promotion; time-consuming and frustrating are not my favorite words.
What makes Dear Cancer better than other self-help cancer books?
I don’t know if it is. Other books might be better organized. They might be more comprehensive. They might be lots of things.
I am a writer, not a doctor. I try to throw a little humor in to lighten the pages, just as I try to throw a little humor into my life. I could say that my romances are as good as those of authors who habitually hit the New York Times bestseller lists, but how do I judge that? The same goes for Dear Cancer. It might be as good as other books or it might not. Readers make that judgment, not authors.
I believe the book is interesting, even a little funny. It sure gives a lot of information about breast cancer and its treatment. I firmly believe reading Dear Cancer is helpful to the person who wants to learn more about breast cancer.
If you would like another question answered, email anntracymarr @ aol.com (remove the spaces) and ask away.