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Research Is the Reason I Could Stay Positive

By BCRF | December 2, 2020

Diagnosed with two types of breast cancer, including triple-negative, Alicia Therien credits research for ensuring treatments were there for her

A month before her 40th birthday, Alicia Therien went in for her yearly gynecologic exam, thinking she’d start getting an annual mammogram. She’d had one two years prior after feeling several lumps in her breasts following her son’s birth. But at this appointment, her doctor recommended she wait another year for a mammogram.

A month later, Alicia noticed new lumps in her breast. Assuming they might be nonmalignant cysts like last time, she waited to call her doctor. But a few weeks later, as Breast Cancer Awareness Month posts filled her social media accounts, she decided to make an appointment.

Just looking at the results of her mammogram and ultrasound, her doctor told her he thought she had breast cancer.

“I was so shocked,” Alicia said. “I just remember laying on the table still and frozen.”

Subsequent testing revealed that Alicia had two tumors in her right breast: One was estrogen receptor (ER)-positive and the other only minorly so. She was officially diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer after chemo eliminated the ER-positive cancer. What remained was TNBC.

RELATED: Emerging Therapies in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Alicia, an interior designer, wife, and mom to two children—an 11-year-old-daughter and six-year-old son—described the early weeks following her diagnosis as by far the most taxing. Her daughter’s only frame of reference for cancer was the loss of a classmate to brain cancer, making sharing her diagnosis with her children all the more painful. As her son’s class mom, she had to miss events and the annual holiday party, because she was immunocompromised by chemo. And she was navigating the new normal of starting intense treatment and experiencing physical changes including losing her hair.

“There was just so much happening at once,” she said. “I felt like I was missing out on a lot.”

She also had to pause chemo for a month in January, because she came down with pneumonia and COVID-19—though no one knew that at the time. She tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies months later and now suspects her husband, who had traveled to Seattle and San Francisco for work, was an asymptomatic carrier.

RELATED: COVID-19 Resources for Breast Cancer Patients and Caregivers

“It was a really big struggle just to get from the bed to the bathroom,” Alicia recalled about the experience.

After recovering from COVID-19, she resumed chemotherapy and underwent a double mastectomy and 33 courses of radiation. After she finishes another round of chemotherapy, she plans to enroll in a clinical trial of a vaccine for TNBC.

RELATED: The Promise and Potential of Breast Cancer Vaccines

Over the course of treatment, Alicia said she was able to keep a positive attitude thanks to support from her family and friends, as well as the doctors and nurses she met in treatment (“I don’t miss chemo, but I miss seeing all those nurses.”) The fact that research is the reason effective treatments and a clinical trial were there when she needed them has given her hope, too.

“BCRF started with 8 researchers and is now supporting 275,” Alicia said. “Look how far patient care has come—you can obviously see the correlation. But we have a long way to go.”

At this point in treatment, Alicia was inspired to find a way to do her part to advance breast cancer research. In October, she raised more than $9,400 for BCRF to fund nearly 190 hours of research.

“How far can research advance in the next 20, 30 years when my daughter will be my age?” Alicia said. “I would go through this disease 100 times if my daughter or son didn’t have to, and I hope no one else has to experience this either.”

Read more personal stories about breast cancer from BCRF’s Research Is The Reason initiative here.