Learning about Breast Cancer
- Katelyn Armstrong received her breast cancer diagnosis mere months after being “in the best shape of [her] life.” Now, the proud, “flat” survivor shares her story on social media in the hopes of inspiring others.
- Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include a breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue, a change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast, changes to the skin over the breast such as dimpling, a newly inverted nipple, peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin and redness or pitting of the skin over your breast – like the skin of an orange.
- Breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is up to you. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s important to know you’re not alone no matter what you choose to do.
Armstrong has bravely shared her cancer story with thousands of social media users. And a big theme she harps on with her followers is that fact that a diagnosis can happen when you least expect it.Read More
During her biopsy, Armstrong’s doctor assured her that “he was 90% sure it was a cyst.” She left the appointment feeling “confident,” but knew deep down that something was wrong.
“The week I waited for my results a friend of mine had declared that they were cancer free on Facebook,” she wrote. “I sobbed uncontrollably in my kitchen, relief for my friend and dread for myself.
“I had not received my results of the biopsy yet, but I knew.”
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It was December 6, 2021, when Armstrong got the phone call.
“The doctors nurse called and told me that they were trying to connect the doctor because they had my results but he was on vacation. I knew in that moment it wasn’t good news,” she wrote. “I cried and begged for her to just tell me. She couldn’t.
“He called me from vacation and said he was so shocked and so sorry. It was [stage one] triple positive invasive ductal carcinoma.”
Armstrong spent two days crying and processing her emotions. She was devastated, but eventually got the support and answers she needed to begin her journey with a more positive mindset.
“The next few weeks were a total whirlwind but I sought support and guidance from a friend who had just gone through it, my grandmother who is a two time survivor and incredible humans online,” Armstrong wrote. “I had an MRI, multiple appointments with my surgeon and my oncologist.
“The devastation turn to hope and determination.”
For treatment, she underwent six rounds of TCHP. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, TCHP combines chemotherapy durgs with a targeted therapy in the form of the drugs docetaxel, carboplatin, trastuzumab and pertuzumab. It is used to treat early-stage breast cancer, and can be given intravenously before or after surgery.
Armstrong then underwent a double mastectomy and went flat meaning that she didn’t have reconstruction. Other necessities of her treatment path have included immunotherapy and hormone blockers.
“I’ll never be the same person I was on December 5, I will be better,” she wrote at the end of that post.
In another more recent social media post, Armstrong shared exactly what 2022 has made her realize.
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“It’s crazy what a year can do to a person,” she wrote. “Last year I start the year scared shitless. Terrified of the process ahead of me starting treatment for my breast cancer diagnosis.
“I spent the next 365 days playing a chess match with my body and health, every move to try to out play the opponent. I learned a lot about my self, my priorities, my circle, my expectations, my goals and my capabilities.”
This year, she’s vowing to learn from everything she’s gone through to make this coming year better than the last in every way possible.
“This year I work to harness those lessons, to better myself, my health, my family,” she wrote. “I’m creating a revolution for myself, a revolution that I hope will have a ripple and impact others around me. To be the healthiest, happiest and free-est version of me.
“2022 broke me & it built me. 2023 believe me. Who’s with me?”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is much more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:
- A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
- Changes to the skin over the breast such as dimpling
- A newly inverted nipple
- Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
- Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange
It’s important to keep an eye out for these symptoms while remembering that having one or many of them does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. Regardless, you should always speak with a doctor promptly if anything ever feels off or you’re experiencing one or more of the signs listed above. You never know when speaking up about your health can lead to a very important diagnosis.
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a medical advisor to SurvivorNet, previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
Implants After Surgery? You Have a Choice.
Many breast cancer survivors choose to get reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy – the removal of their breast(s). But it’s also important to note that more and more women like Katelyn Armstrong are choosing to go “flat” and not get implants.
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“For the record yes I know I can get reconstruction, and no I do not want to,” Armstrong wrote in an Instagram caption.
Every woman’s breast cancer battle is unique to them. And the good news is that it’s your decision what to do whatever you think is best for your body with the guidance of your medical team, of course.
There are many reasons some women choose to “go flat” after surgery by forgoing breast reconstruction. One of which is simply to be done with surgeries. Some, on the other hand, may want to simply stick it to conventional beauty standards. No matter what the reason, there’s many people on both sides of the equation.
“A lot of us women are sticking together and helping each other through this journey of being this new look,” artist and survivor Marianne Cuozzo previously told SurvivorNet. “We’re trying to make it so that it’s not this stigma.”
Cuozzo wanted to share her story to help others. But she had no idea how many women she would touch.
“I’ve helped a lot of women that I had no idea that I was helping,” she said. “I do a lot of photo shoots showing my scars, and I didn’t realize the reaction. And then all of a sudden, I’m sharing this with other people and they’re seeing this and encouraging them to take another step of maybe don’t get reconstruction.”
“Just remove your breasts,” she says, “go flat, feel good about yourself.”
Contributing: Marisa Sullivan