When Rochelle Barr first heard the words “triple negative breast cancer,” she was optimistic about her prognosis. After all, in the medical world, testing negative is usually considered a good thing. However, she learned her cancer belonged to a rare subtype that is more aggressive and more difficult to treat.
“When the diagnosis was confirmed to me it really felt like a bomb went off in my head,” Barr said. She was 49 years old at the time.
Barr was familiar with breast cancer – both her mother and grandmother survived the disease years earlier. Still, she knew very little about the world she was entering into.
“I was surprised to find out how heterogeneous this disease really is. No two people are alike in this journey,” she said. This realization led her to forge a new way of confronting her diagnosis.
“Once I got over the initial shock, it became my mission to stay on top of my diagnosis. I wanted to keep advancing my knowledge and work with my medical team to find the best treatment path for me,” she said.
Soon Barr was reading medical journals, tuning in to cancer research conferences and having lengthy discussions with her doctors to stay abreast of the latest developments to guide her treatment.
“Breast cancer research has played a critical role throughout my diagnosis,” Barr said. “Without any targeted therapies for TNBC, patients in my position depend on medical discoveries and scientific innovation to prolong and save their lives.”
These advances can’t come soon enough. For Barr and other TNBC patients, the subtype is typically more aggressive, more difficult to treat and more likely to recur than other forms of breast cancer. In Barr’s case, her cancer reoccurred twice since she was initially diagnosed in 2009. Today she is living with metastatic disease – a condition where cancer cells have traveled from their point of origin to other parts of the body; currently, there is no known cure for metastatic breast cancer.
“When I learned my cancer had spread, I had two choices. I could either feel sorry for myself and my world becomes smaller or I could stay strong in my belief that knowledge is power,” Barr said.
She chose the latter where she explored all the options available to her to manage the disease. She attempted to participate in numerous clinical trials before she eventually qualified for one that is testing an immunotherapy. For Barr, this opportunity reflects how far research has come in the past few years since her initial diagnosis.
“Six years ago when I was first diagnosed, immunotherapy wasn’t on my radar. But today it is being discussed and considered an option for patients like me,” she said.
While the results of her trial remain to be seen, Barr hopes her participation will create new avenues for breast cancer patients in the future.
“The trial I’m on now may or may not work for me, but it’s still a novel way of treating cancer and certainly less toxic for the patient,” she said. “My biggest hope for breast cancer research is for metastatic disease to become a chronic condition if it can’t be cured.”
When looking to an organization to align herself with, it came as no surprise Barr turned to BCRF – as did her family. Her daughter, Zoë Mintz, serves as the organization’s manager of digital communications.
“I’m a big believer in what BCRF does. They are at the forefront of encouraging the leading medical and scientific brains of today to creative innovative therapies that will benefit patients in the near future,” she said. “This is the kind of organization that I truly believe in.”