When I was initially diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2014, I literally knew nothing about cancer other than it was a scary disease that I had lost a grandfather to in junior high. I couldn’t tell you what it actually did to people or what the main treatments were. I’m a reasonably intelligent, educated person. To recognize how ignorant I was to such a pervasive issue throughout all demographics of society is a bit frightening to me now.
I recognize that cancer is generally considered a heavy topic and not one people want to spend all their time thinking about. I generally agree and wish I had that luxury, but that’s not the hand I’ve been dealt. In the absence of an ability to remove cancer from my life, I’ve become passionate about sharing the information I have learned in an approachable and simple manner. Information is power and I’d like to spread the information I have and empower others to join my healthy lifestyle and advocacy work. Therefore, I’ve written this blog post as context for many of my other posts.
Quickly, I’d like to clarify my knowledge and credentials. I am not a trained medical professional – I am a Breast Cancer Survivor and Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient. The information in this blog has largely been provided to me by my doctors and my own supplemental research using reputable sources. My goal is to educate, not to provide any specific medical advice. So let’s get into it:
“Cancer” is *not* one specific disease. “Cancer” is an umbrella term used to describe diseases characterized by rapid/uncontrolled cell division. Cancer is literally cells that used to be totally fine multiplying wayyy to fast in your body forming tumors and other disruptions to the body. For Breast Cancer, it is largely unknown why this starts to occur. It has been proven to include environmental, genetic, lifestyle, and random factors. Yes, I said *random*. Mythbuster: You need no family history or unhealthy lifestyle to end up with Breast Cancer.
Each type of cancer (and even sub-type) grows, spreads, and responds to treatments in unique ways. This is why I know quite a bit about Breast Cancer, but very little about the details of treating another type of cancer. This is also why cancer is currently in my bones, but it is still called Breast Cancer. It originated as Breast Cancer, spread beyond my breast region (called metastasis) even though I followed all treatment protocols, and will always respond to treatments as Breast Cancer and therefore will always be identified as such.
Each type of Cancer also has sub-types. For Breast Cancer, there are several characteristics used to describe one’s cancer. Depending on the sub-type you fall under your recommended treatment protocol may be different. Please see the figure below to recap the last few paragraphs.
Now let’s move on to the treatment of cancer at a high level. There are three main categories of treatments for cancer:
- Surgery (Cut)
- Radiation (Burn)
- Chemotherapy (Chemo) (Poison)
In addition there are emerging immunotherapies and other targeted treatments. Please keep in mind that each one of these treatments are a *category* meaning there are many specific medications or procedures that fall under each category with specific and varying side effects. Please see the figure below for additional detail.
Thanks for bearing with me through Cancer 101. If you have any questions or clarifications, please feel free to add them to the comments!