MarilynI was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of breast cancer, Triple Negative (TNBC), in May of 2005.  As a registered nurse I had very little knowledge of breast cancer and my cancer experience was limited to hospice nursing.  TNBC was just being recognized as a “new, aggressive” phenotype.  In my own research, I learned “no targeted therapy & tends to recur.”  When I found out it was also locally advanced in my lymph nodes, I decided to become a true warrior.

As treatment was started in a rush mode I used any spare time I had researching online.  I was starting to tell my physicians what I had read in the research area.  My knowledge was giving me tremendous power in making treatment decisions which are thrown at you at the time you are the most vulnerable, experiencing anxiety & fear.

I can see why women make emotional decisions after talking to many other survivors.  Some just want the problem to “go away” with drastic surgeries; others are sometimes enticed into the “free boob job and tummy tuck” routine of plastic surgery.  I chose my surgery & treatment plan based on outcome studies; quadrentectomy with total axillary node dissection, followed by dose dense chemo and radiation.  All came with side effects, neutropenic fever, peripheral neuropathy, chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction, but I decided one way to deal with these was to KEEP WORKING as a business owner and case manager. I had little time to focus on my side effects since I was coordinating other people’s medical issues and was thankfully able to push through.

In 2014 I joined The Heroine’s Choir, a joyful group of breast cancer survivors who heal themselves and others through the art of chorale.  I began researching the effect of singing on the immune system and gradually I found my immune system beginning to come back.  My choir has become like a second family! The support & camaraderie is there but we don’t dwell on surgeries, chemo etc.  We focus on singing which helps with not only breathing and expanding the chest, but also chemo brain as we need to memorize all our lyrics and our choreography.  The performances, from Komen races to singing the National Anthem at the Miami Heat game have been exhilarating! Most importantly we are showing the newly diagnosed that there is life after diagnoses. I am currently serving as the interim director of The Heroines Choir. Now my life is enhanced by learning new skills in the music field.

I have learned there is Hope even after a bad prognosis.  Life is definitely different now than it was 11 years ago; in many ways my life is enriched. I don’t feel like just a survivor, I started as a WARRIOR and now I am a THRIVER!