Breast Cancer Awareness 2020: Carol Keton Parsons: Testing and support are key

Courtesy photoCarol Keton Parsons has been cancer-free for 10 years, after being diagnosed with invasive ductal triple-negative breast cancer when she was 69.

Name: Carol Keton Parsons

Age: 79

Hometown: Born in Manchester-by-the-Sea, grew up and currently lives in Gloucester

Background: Married with three daughters, graduated from Gloucester High School and took psychology courses at North Shore Community College in Danvers, grew up at Hillcrest Nursing Home as her parents owned the facility, is a Daughter of the American Revolution, loves the local museums and library.

Favorite childhood memory: “My grandmother lived on Centennial Avenue, and she would make homemade old-fashioned doughnuts. I can still see her standing there making doughnuts.”

Experience with breast cancer: When Parsons felt a lump in her breast while taking a shower at the age of 69, she knew something was not right. That same week, she went to a cancer clinic, where an ultrasound confirmed her fear. The doctors diagnosed her with invasive ductal triple-negative breast cancer.

“All breast cancer is serious, but they said this was an aggressive kind of cancer where you don’t live very long,” Parsons said.

A doctor in Gloucester suggested that Parsons pursue chemotherapy, which she ended up doing every other day for three weeks.

After finishing up her chemo treatment, Parsons was given radiation treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital and had a lumpectomy to remove the cancer from her breasts.

The Gloucester resident is now 10 years cancer-free.

What she wants people to know: First, older women should get tested. “A lot of women who are my age don’t think they can get it,” she said.

Secondly, go to the support meetings for those who have breast cancer. For Parsons, the bond with other women who have or had breast cancer is a strong one. When she would see other women in head scarves, she would go up and hug them.

“When you have breast cancer, it is like a bond,” she said. “Everyone hugs everyone.”

What Is triple-negative breast cancer?

Triple-negative breast cancer is a kind of breast cancer that does not have any of the receptors that are commonly found in breast cancer.

Think of cancer cells as a house. The front door may have three kinds of locks, called receptors.

One is for the female hormone estrogen.

One is for the female hormone progesterone.

One is a protein called human epidermal growth factor (HER2).

If an individual’s cancer has any of these three locks, doctors have a few keys (like hormone therapy or other drugs) they can use to help destroy the cancer cells.

But for those people who have triple-negative breast cancer, it means those three locks aren’t there. So the keys doctors usually use won’t work. But chemotherapy is still an effective option.

Often, patients first need to have the lump removed (a lumpectomy) or the entire breast removed (a mastectomy). Then, they have chemotherapy treatments to target any cancer cells that can’t be seen — cells remaining in the breast or that may have spread into other parts of the body. Sometimes doctors recommend chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the cancer.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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