“M I have breast cancer and just scheduled my double mastectomy.”
Amber Rachelle was 26. She felt a lump a month prior but she, her mom and their physician friend dismissed the possibility of breast cancer because Amber was so young. She had just started a new position and had to wait a month for her health insurance to begin.
Upon her diagnosis that January, they learned very quickly that Amber had triple negative breast cancer, a most-aggressive and more difficult to treat breast cancer. Recurrence is more prevalent, and it is the only breast cancer that does not have a preventive drug to stop it from coming back. According to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, the disease disproportionately strikes younger women, African-American women and those with BRCA1 and 2 mutations.
Amber had all three of those factors.
Following a double mastectomy, she moved from Los Angeles, where she was a budding actress, back to Atlanta to be with her mom/caregiver/nurturer/prayer warrior and consummate seeker of what could be done to heal her daughter.
When Amber removed the bandages a week after her surgery, she noticed a small pimple on her incision area. Though her doctor said it was nothing, it continued to grow into a mass. Reluctantly, she started chemotherapy in May. Worried about the side effects and losing her hair, she was hoping to get past the chemotherapy and go back to her acting.
The first chemo infusion gave her extreme stomach pains, which she ultimately came to understand was severe colitis. The pain continued with her next two infusions, after which her oncologist stopped treatment. It was clear at that point Amber would not be able to follow the most effective treatment protocol for TNBC and would have to take a different path.
At the same time, the tumor on the outside of her chest began to take on a life of its own. She started radiation to arrest its growth. But close to her 28th birthday in 2015, she learned the cancer was metastatic; it had spread to her liver and was attacking her on both the inside and outside.
On her Facebook diary, Amber wrote: “I’m entering in a new phase in my life. Having had breast cancer for the past year my life has changed so much. As I get a little older and wiser, I get stronger.”
Amber did not let the discouraging news stop her. She moved back to Los Angeles to work so she could maintain her health insurance. Though she was on chemo, she was making grand plans for her life and pursuing her dreams.
When the chemo seemed to stop working, Amber checked herself into a holistic clinic for three weeks to try a natural approach. During that time, the TNBC spread to her lungs and bones. A month later, just after the 4th of July, Amber called her mom saying, “I’m ready to come home.”
Her disease continued to worsen and she was on and off different chemotherapy and in and out of the hospital. She and her mom sought alternative treatments, second and third opinions, clinical trial options—reaching out to some of the most renowned TNBC experts. But the advanced stage of her cancer limited her choices.
By September, she was in the hospital and a doctor recommended hospice care. Her mom resisted, and Amber rallied. She left the hospital and fought like a girl, battling her internal pain and the consistent growth on her chest. She got up, went out, took more chemotherapy and lived every day to the fullest. She celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with family, not letting on how badly she felt. After the holidays, she bought workout clothes to fulfill a New Year’s resolution to be healthier.
She left us on January 25, 2017, four days before she would’ve turned 29.
Amber left a legacy of love her friends and family will never forget. Her diary is on Facebook.
This story originally appeared at BlackHealthMatters.com.
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