Reporting Robbie Owens
PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) – There is a type of breast cancer — called ‘triple negative’ – that strikes long before most people believe that a woman is old enough to worry about the disease. And one North Texas family learned about it through a series of heartbreaking experiences.
Nikki Thomas was just a little girl when she lost both her mother and aunt to ‘triple negative’ breast cancer. “I was 9 years old,” she said. But little did she know, her family’s war with the devastating disease was just beginning. And the family is still fighting.
“So, we came up with the IWANT Foundation. It’s actually an acronym,” Thomas explained. “The ‘I’ is for Isaac, my dad. The ‘W’ is for Wanda, my mom who passed away from breast cancer at 35. The ‘A’ is for Andrea, my sister. She passed away from breast cancer a couple of weeks ago. The ‘N’ is for Nikki, which is myself. And the ‘T’ is for my second mom, Toni.
Thomas had a double mastectomy three years ago and, so far, the cancer has not returned. But her sister, Andrea, was not so lucky. Andrea’s cancer spread to her lungs twice, and then to her brain. She fought until the very end. “She went through so much to try to live,” said Thomas.
Sadly, Andrea’s story is all too common. Researchers with the University of Chicago call ‘triple negative’ breast cancer a triple threat because “it strikes early, it’s resistant to standard drug treatments and more likely to kill. It’s primary targets are young African American woman. Black women under the age of 50 are 77 percent more likely to die from the disease than white women of all ages.”
Although anyone can get ‘triple negative’ breast cancer, there does seem to be certain risk factors: early pregnancy, not breastfeeding and obesity. Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can offer some protection.
The IWANT Foundation works to raise awareness about this aggressive form of breast cancer, while also sharing comfort. They provide pillows for North Texas patients recovering from mastectomies. But what IWANT wants the most is for researchers to find a cure.
Dr. Cynthia Osborne and her colleagues at Texas Oncology are some of the leading researchers in ‘triple negative’ breast cancer, and even they admit that there is still a lot that they do not know about the disease. “It may not be that the woman didn’t get her mammogram last year,” Osborne said. “That it truly did come up and can come up rapidly, and have a fairly advanced presentation during a brief time.”
Thomas and her family know too well just how severe this disease can be. “I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through what our family has gone through,” Thomas said.