Understanding Breast Cancer
- A mother of three from Ireland has amazed her doctors by her resilience as she has overcome a stroke, a brain tumor, aneurysms, and now, breast cancer.
- Denise Sullivan, 51, recently finished both chemotherapy and radiation for her breast cancer, so she’s optimistic that she’ll be deemed in remission soon.
- There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. It’s important to note that the stage and type of Denise’s breast cancer is unknown.
- Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors.
“One of my doctors said to me recently that everything I have had kills you instantly,” Denise Sullivan told the Irish Mirror. “He had never seen so many illnesses that can kill you, in one person.”Read More
The 51-year-old’s unlucky health streak began in June 1999 when she had a stroke two weeks before her wedding.
“I was given 24 hours to live,” she said. “I was only 28.”
Denise pulled through after the stroke, but she was left paralyzed on her left side. Once she was fully recovered, in 2016, her father died from cancer. Denise began to develop “bad” headaches, but she attributed it to all the crying from losing her father.
It was later discovered that her headaches were actually caused by a brain tumor, as well as a vascular condition called an arteriovenous malformation, which is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins, which disrupts normal blood flow and oxygen circulation, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“I was told it was what caused my stroke 23 years ago,” Denise said. “I was a ticking time bomb.”
Her doctors were able to remove about 95% of the growing brain tumor, which was followed by radiation treatment.
Denise hoped this was the end of her bad luck streak when it came to her health. But in April 2021, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The stage and type of her disease haven’t been disclosed.
She’s finished both chemotherapy and radiation for her breast cancer, so she’s optimistic that she’ll soon be deemed in remission!
“After all I have come through, I feel like I am a miracle,” Denise said.
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that’s been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer, too — though it is more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. It’s important to note that the stage and type of Denise’s breast cancer is unknown. 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, 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.
“The good news is there are so many different treatments and options available, and doctors really are attuned to trying to understand patients better, to figure out what are their individual needs,” Dr. Comen said.
Contributing: Abigail Seaberg