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Adriamycin (doxorubicin) Breast Cancer Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide) Herceptin (trastuzumab) Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Taxol (paclitaxel)

Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Triple +, Stage 3 | Stefanie’s Story

Stefanie H., IDC, Triple Positive, Stage 3

Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer. Triple positive = positive for HER2, estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR)
1st Symptoms: Lump in breast
Treatment: chemotherapy, lumpectomy, radiation

Stefanie’s Breast Cancer Story: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Triple Positive, Stage 3

Stefanie shares her stage 3 triple positive breast cancer diagnosis, undergoing chemotherapy and side effects, lumpectomy, and radiation therapy.

In her story, Stefanie also highlights how she navigated the hair loss post-chemo, how she approached work during treatment, and the impact of the breast cancer diagnosis on her marriage.

  • Name: Stefanie H.
  • Diagnosis (DX):
    • Breast cancer
    • Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC)
    • Triple positive (Triple +)
  • Age at DX: 33
  • Staging: 2 initially, then 3
  • 1st Symptoms:
    • Lump in breast
  • Treatment:

If my cancer is the worst thing I go through in my life, I’m very blessed.

I know there are people who have had it way worse than I did with cancer and otherwise.

I just tell myself what I’m grateful for all the time. I have my family, and there’s people out there who don’t have that. I just try to count my blessings.

Stefanie H.


Diagnosis

What were your first symptoms

I was pregnant. I gave birth on October 4th, so two days before I found out everything. I found a lump in my breast while I was pregnant.

I was five months along when I noticed it. I was usually in and out at my appointments, so I brushed it off and thought it was a clogged duct. I just didn’t think anything of it. 

After I gave birth, one of the postpartum nurses said, “You have a lump on your breast.”

I said, “I know. It’s a clogged duct, and it’s gonna go away when I start nursing.” They did a sonogram that night, and my OBGYN felt horrible for me. 

I look back and I think ignorance is bliss in a way. It’s a blessing that I didn’t know about it during my pregnancy because I would’ve stressed out. My doctor said if I had found out when I was eight weeks pregnant, there would’ve been other options and who knows what I would’ve done. 

The way it worked out for me was okay. I’m not saying it would work for everyone, but it worked for me.

How did you get the diagnosis?

They did the sonogram on the night I gave birth. They did a biopsy the next day since the sonogram was inconclusive.

They told me I could call on the 6th for my results. I was still inpatient from giving birth after my scheduled C-section. 

My husband was working because I told him I was going to need a lot of help when we got home, so I wanted him to be working as much as he could until then.

I was alone and called the radiation department. The doctor said, “I’m so sorry. You have cancer.”

I got out of the hospital the next day, but I was just ready to go home right then. I wanted to crawl into my bed and forget this was happening. 

»MORE: Patients share how they processed a cancer diagnosis

Chemotherapy

What was your treatment plan?

Originally, I was going to do my four rounds of AC and 12 rounds of Taxol and Herceptin. Then we were gonna do surgery. We decided on a lumpectomy especially because my little one was so small.

My surgeon said she was confident she could get it all, so that’s what we were gonna do. You make plans and God laughs. 

My ejection fraction was really low at one point, so they had to stop my Taxol and Herceptin, and we did the surgery early. Because I had to stop chemo for a while, she said they were going to go ahead and operate.

That gave my heart some time to rebound. It did bounce back. I was under the care of a cardio specialist. 

What was your chemo regimen like?

I had AC every other week. Then I did 12 rounds of weekly Taxol and Herceptin. The first chemo was terrifying. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced.

That’s when everything became real for me. You see all these people already well into their treatments, and you see what you’re going to become.

They hook up to this bright red bag of chemo, and it’s so scary looking. They have to tell you all the potentials of what could happen. They have to tell you all the possible worst case scenarios, and you’re sitting there wondering if it’s going to happen to you.

I had a six-year-old and a less than one-month-old at home. I had a lot to worry about. Luckily, I had the nicest nurses. As scary as it all was, I knew it was going to be okay. 

What side effects did you experience from chemo?

I was fine the day after infusions. The day after that, I felt like a train hit me. My bones ached, I couldn’t hardly function, and I was nauseous.

They had given me anti-nausea medications, but I felt fine the day before, so I didn’t take them. I learned very quickly that even if you’re not feeling nauseous, you should still take the medicine. 

I would be tired and need a day to recuperate, but then I’d be okay. It wasn’t so bad. I felt so much better on the Taxol and Herceptin than I did on the AC.

I had some fatigue and diarrhea a couple of times, but other than that, it was so much easier. My hair started growing back during it, which I was not expecting. 

»MORE: Read other cancer patient experiences with chemotherapy

Surgery

What was your surgery like?

They did a lumpectomy and lymph node removal on January 27th. I had a revised lumpectomy the following week because they didn’t clear the margins the first time.

I told her, “If you can’t clear the margins after this, just give me a mastectomy.”

At that point, I just wanted the cancer gone. 

I was thinking, “You just need to get this over with.” They told me they weren’t sure about my lymph nodes when I went in for surgery. They said if they wound up needing to take them, I would wind up having to stay overnight in the hospital. 

I was sad about needing to be away from my kids. I was nervous and wondering what was going to happen. At the same time, I was confident in my surgeon and knew they were cutting out what they could. 

There was part of me that was just glad we were doing something and glad to be there fighting the cancer. There was another part of me that was nervous and just wondering what was going to happen. 

I ended up having to stay overnight. Calling your little kid and telling him you’re not going to be home that night is terrible. Not being able to hold your baby is one of the worst feelings in the world. 

»MORE: Read more patient experiences with surgery

What was recovery from surgery like?

I remember waking up from surgery, and my surgeon being there hugging me. She told me, “It’s good. You’re done. It’s all over.” She’s amazing.

I wasn’t in any pain when I woke up thankfully. I had a drain, and I didn’t like that. That was a little uncomfortable. I wasn’t happy about having to stay overnight.

My husband would probably tell you I was argumentative because of that. Once I calmed down about that, I was okay. 

They were giving me Tylenol intravenously, and that worked really well. They told me I was going home the next day. I just kept that in my head, and that’s what helped me make it through. 

When I got home, everybody took a turn to come and stay and help me. I couldn’t lift anything because of the lymph node removal. My best friend came and stayed for a day, my grandma, my aunt, my husband took a day off, and everyone was just so wonderful.

It really did take a village to get me through all this. I’m so lucky to have my village. I can’t imagine going through what I did without my family. 

You had more treatment after surgery?

After surgery, I went once a week for nine months to get Herceptin. It’s really nothing compared to the other chemo I was doing. At that point, I was feeling so fine that it was mostly just an inconvenience. 

Describe the radiation therapy

I also had 30 rounds of radiation. It was horrible. It’s not because it’s painful. I did get a burn, but that’s not why it was horrible. You don’t feel it while you’re getting treatment.

It was just an inconvenience because you have to go every single weekday. If they’re backed up, it just takes forever. The treatment itself isn’t long, but the wait times could be terrible. 

»MORE: Read other patient experiences with radiation therapy

Reflections

Can you talk about hair loss

By the grace of God, I didn’t lose my hair until the day after my son’s baptism. I was so glad I had hair for that.

My mom and other people would say, “It’s just hair,” but it’s never just hair. The hair loss was heartbreaking. 

I shaved my head. I wasn’t about to let it just fall out. My scalp actually hurt too. It was my hair follicles dying. It felt better to shave it.

»MORE: Patients describe dealing with hair loss during cancer treatment

I wore wigs for a little while. I stopped pretty early on though because they’re annoying and itchy. I don’t care how nice it is, it’s still a wig. I was more comfortable not wearing anything than wearing a wig. 

My kids were so used to me being bald, so it was fine for me. Their friends came over one day, and they were horrified by my bald head. I had to apologize profusely, and of course, I was crying.

I hated that my kids’ norm was mommy not having any hair. That shouldn’t be normal for any child. 

Did you work through treatment?

I went back to work in December in between getting AC and Taxol. My job let me take off one day a week for treatment when I started Taxol.

I’m a teacher, and at that point, I was teaching special ed pre-school, so that wasn’t easy. I was grateful my job was accommodating. 

I enjoy routine so going to work was a break from reality. It was six hours a day I could not think about cancer and just do my job. In a way, I think that helped get me through it. 

»MORE: Working during cancer treatment

How did cancer affect your relationship with your husband

My husband and I already had one son. We got married and had a baby right away. That wasn’t the easiest road, and we have our own notions of how things should be.

I’m opinionated and high energy, he’s more passive and quiet. We’re complete opposites. 

My husband was terrified in the beginning. We just had our second baby, and here his wife is with a cancer diagnosis, and he didn’t know what was going to happen.

He did everything for me despite being scared himself.

Anything I asked of him, he did. I couldn’t have asked for somebody better. He wasn’t singing from the rooftops about how amazing I am because that’s not his style.

He was just so supportive. He kept it together when I couldn’t. The laundry was done, the kids were fed, everyone was where they needed to be.

Looking back, I realize how important it was to me that he took care of those little things. 

»MORE: 3 Things To Remember If Your Spouse Is Diagnosed With Cancer

Being a cancer patient and a mom

I had to learn really quickly that I couldn’t do everything I was used to doing. I wasn’t able to make lunch or get my kid on the bus.

I was tired. I just had to resign myself and realize when I couldn’t do things. 

Emotionally, it took a toll on me. I cannot imagine leaving my children without a mother. Especially the timing of my diagnosis.

I went through a moment of “why me” because we had a newborn baby. It was just terrible. I heard the best sound of my baby crying and heard the worst thing you can hear two days later. 

I have my mother, and I know that everyone would step up and do what they had to do, but it’s not the same. Those are my kids. They’re everything to me.

I asked my doctor right at the beginning, ‘Am I going to die?’

She looked at me and said, ‘No, you’re not going to.’

I just had to trust her. 

»MORE: Parents describe how they handled cancer with their kids

Transitioning into survivorship

I’m so hypersensitive to my body now. Any little thing can alert me. I live with a little bit of fear. I remember in the beginning thinking, “I don’t want to go through that again.” I really don’t, but I did it once. I know I could do it again if I had to. 

Now, I’ve settled down. There are days where I forget I had cancer, and there are days when it feels like it was yesterday.

Every day is different for me. I can go days without thinking about it. I feel compelled to share my story where I can. 

If my cancer is the worst thing I go through in my life, I’m very blessed. I know there are people who have had it way worse than I did with cancer and otherwise.

I just tell myself what I’m grateful for all the time. I have my family, and there’s people out there who don’t have that. I just try to count my blessings. 

What advice do you have for someone who has just been diagnosed?

Stay positive even on your worst days. Try to find something to be grateful for, even if it’s the littlest thing. Don’t be afraid to lean on other people for help. Somebody set a meal train up for us, and that was amazing. 

Don’t feel embarrassed about accepting the help someone is offering you. Take the help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it either.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Stefanie!

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Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Stage 1, ER+, PR+, HER2- | Amelia’s Story

Amelia L., IDC, Stage 1, ER/PR+, HER2-



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Lump found during self breast exam
Treatment: TC chemotherapy; lumpectomy, double mastectomy, reconstruction; Tamoxifen
Breast Cancer Stories: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), Stage 1B | Rachel’s Story

Rachel Y., IDC, Stage 1B



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer. Stage 1B.
1st Symptoms: None, caught by delayed mammogram
Treatment: Double mastectomy, neoadjuvant chemotherapy, hormone therapy Tamoxifen
Breast Cancer Stories:  IDC, Stage 2, Triple Positive (Triple+) | Rach’s Story

Rach D., IDC, Stage 2, Triple Positive



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Lump in right breast
Treatment: Neoadjuvant chemotherapy, double mastectomy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy
Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Stage 2B, ER+, PR+| Caitlin’s Story

Caitlin J., IDC, Stage 2B, ER/PR Positive



Cancer Details: ER/PR positive = estrogen and progesterone receptor positive
1st Symptoms:
Lump found on breast
Treatment:
Lumpectomy, AC/T chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy (Lupron and Anastrozole)
Breast Cancer Stories: Triple Negative (TNBC), IDC,Stage 2, Grade 3, BRCA1+ | Joy’s Story

Joy R., IDC, Stage 2, Triple Negative



Cancer details: Triple negative doesn’t have any receptors commonly found in breast cancer making it harder to treat
1st Symptoms: Lump in breast
Treatment: Chemo, double mastectomy, hysterectomy
IDC, Stage 2B, ER+ | Breast Cancer Story

Callie M., IDC, Stage 2B, Grade 2, ER+



Cancer Details: ER positive = estrogen receptor positive
1st Symptoms:
Dimpling/lump found on breast
Treatment:
Mastectomy, AC/T chemotherapy, hysterectomy, reconstruction
Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Stage 2B, Soft Tissue Sarcoma as 2nd Cancer | Monica’s Story

Monica H., IDC, Stage 2B



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Tightness and lump in left breast
Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery
Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Triple +, Stage 3 | Stefanie’s Story

Stefanie H., IDC, Triple Positive, Stage 3



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer. Triple positive = positive for HER2, estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR)
1st Symptoms: Lump in breast
Treatment: chemotherapy, lumpectomy, radiation
Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Stage 2A,Triple+ | Doreen’s Story

Doreen D., IDC, Stage 2A, Triple Positive



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer. Triple positive = positive for HER2, estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR)
1st Symptoms: Lump in left breast
Treatment: Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (TCHP), lumpectomy, radiation
Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Stage 2B, TNBC, Pregnant with Cancer | Melissa’s Story

Melissa H., Stage 2B, Triple Negative



Cancer details: Triple negative doesn’t have any receptors commonly found in breast cancer making it harder to treat
1st Symptoms: Lump in left breast
Treatment: Mastectomy, chemotherapy, 2nd mastectomy
Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Stage 3, HER2+ | Genoa’s Story

Genoa M., Stage 2, HER2-Positive



Cancer details: HER2-positive tends to be more aggressive than HER2-negative cases
1st Symptoms: Nausea
Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation
Breast Cancer Story: Pregnant with Cancer, IDC, Stage 2B to Stage 3 | Andrea’s Story

Andrea A., IDC, Stage 2B/3, ER+



Cancer details: Found cancer while pregnant
1st Symptoms: Divot in breast
Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery
Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Stage 3, Grade 3, Triple Negative (TNBC), BRCA1+ | Stephanie’s  Story

Stephanie J., Stage 3, Triple Negative, BRCA1+



Cancer details: Triple negative doesn’t have any receptors commonly found in breast cancer
1st Symptoms: Lump in left breast
Treatment: Chemotherapy, surgery
Metastatic Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, HER2+, Stage 3, Relapse, Stage 4 | Renee’s Story

Renee N., IDC, Stage 3, HER2+



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Lump in breast
Treatment: chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomy, radiation
Metastatic Breast Cancer Stories: IDC, Stage 4, Triple Positive | Shari’s Story

Shari S., Stage 4, Metastatic, Triple Positive



Cancer details: Triple positive = positive for HER2, estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR)
1st Symptoms: Lump in breast
Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation
Metastatic Breast Cancer Story: IDC, TNBC (Triple Negative), Stage 2B, Relapse, Stage 4 | Erin’s Story

Erin C., IDC, Triple Negative, Stage 2B/4 Metastatic



Cancer details: Triple negative doesn’t have any receptors commonly found in breast cancer making it harder to treat
1st Symptoms: Pain in breast
Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation
Breast Cancer Stories: IDC & DCIS, Stage 2 | Margaret’s Story

Margaret A., IDC & DCIS, Stage 2B



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer. DCIS means cancer has not spread into surrounding breast tissue
1st Symptoms: Pain in left breast, left nipple inverting
Treatment: Double mastectomy, chemo (AC-T), Radiation

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