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Melissa Paskvan believes she is a breast cancer survivor today because she didn’t listen to her doctor’s advice nearly five years ago.
The 45-year-old Toledo woman discovered a lump by chance in 2009 while scratching an itch on her ribs just beneath her breast.
But when the mammogram came back negative, her original doctor told her it was probably just a cyst and that she probably shouldn’t be too alarmed.
“He was really reluctant, and he didn’t push to get it looked at. I’m glad I didn’t listen,” Ms. Paskvan said.
She had an ultrasound that showed a 2-centimeter growth, and she insisted that he take a biopsy of the growth immediately.
Two days later, the lab confirmed her suspicion that the mass was cancerous.
Ms. Paskvan soon learned that she was suffering from a very rare, aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
“I knew there was something there. I had a gut feeling. You have to be an advocate for your own body,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 206,966 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.
About 15 to 20 percent of all breast cancers are triple negative, said Dr. Iman Mohamed, chief of the division of hematology and oncology at the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio.
In the Toledo area, about 94 women a year are diagnosed with this unique form of breast cancer.
“It is the one type of breast cancer that is not driven by hormones. It’s a cancer that doesn’t really have a target for treatment. It does respond to chemotherapy, but it tends to come back earlier,” Dr. Mohamed said.
Because it is not hormone-driven, it is a type of cancer that does not respond to the drugs given to other breast cancer patients after they complete chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
She added that this type of cancer also tends to strike younger women and African-American women disproportionately.
“This is all genetic. You can trace it back to where African-Americans started in Africa — in Nigeria, Ghana — and the variety that they have there is exactly the variety of Triple Negative Breast Cancer here,” she said.
Dr. Mohamed was the organizer of a special event at UTMC on Monday dedicated to increasing awareness about this specific form of breast cancer.
She only recently learned herself that March 3 has been designated as Triple Negative Breast Cancer Day nationally.
The event, “A Different Shade of Pink,” at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center gave local cancer survivors an opportunity to come together and learn more about the newest treatments and services available to help them.
After Ms. Paskvan left her original doctor and started receiving treatment from Dr. Mohamed, they started a rigorous round of treatments to fight the cancer.
She had a lumpectomy, in which the doctors surgically removed the tumor two weeks after her diagnosis.
Then she started eight rounds of chemotherapy — one treatment per week, followed by 33 rounds of radiation treatment, she said.
Ms. Paskvan said she is doing well. She has moved on with her life and is making every moment count.
Dr. Mohamed said Ms. Paskvan has passed a critical threshold.
If it doesn’t return in the first two to three years after a patient completes treatments, “these women are probably cured,” Dr. Mohamed said.
“We are working on getting new therapies so even more woman survive,” she said. “I hope people walk out of this feeling more informed of this disease and the treatments available.”
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor Marlene Harris-Taylor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.