Hasna De Four
Living To Keep Fighting
By Phenomgirl / October 26, 2018
Name: Hasna De Four
Culture Vibe: Born in Trinidad. Resides in London, England
Diagnosis: Metastasized Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Her Mission: To continue to educate herself and other women about breast cancer and to fight for the younger generation of girls so that their journey with breast cancer have a more positive outcome.
How are you feeling lately?
I feel normal. This is my concept on life. But in my mind I feel good. I feel strong.
What year were you first diagnosed with breast cancer?
At 32 years of age, I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2006 with (DCIS) Ductal Carcinoma in Situ stage three. Lymph nodes were removed by lumpectomy from the right breast, then I did chemo and radiation. I had another mammogram in 2008 where they found some other tissues in the left breast. However, it wasn’t recognized as cancer so they didn’t do anything. In 2010, at 36 years of age after I had my second son, testings showed some issues again in the left breast. I had double mastectomy and my new breasts were reconstructed by the TRAM (Transverse Rectus Abdominus Myocutaneous) method, where I used my own belly tissues and muscles to create new boobs. A mesh was placed inside my abdominal wall to replace the belly tissues and muscles that were removed. The mesh prevents hernias from forming. The surgery lasted 17 hours with a lot of complications. Then in 2016 after my daughter was born I was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer. Ten years from the first diagnosis in 2006.
Were you tested for the BRAC gene?
Yes. In 2010, I had a genetic blood test and found out that I carried the BRCA gene.
While you were pregnant in 2016, you and the doctors didn’t know you had metastasized breast cancer?
Right. I wasn’t diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer while pregnant. I found out after I gave birth. I was being monitored by a blood test called CA125, which monitors my ovaries. It was very high at the time; so I did an ultrasound and found out that I was pregnant. During the pregnancy I was monitored fairly diligently. It was a high risk pregnancy. Number one, I was 42 years of age. Number two, I had the mesh inside my abdominal walls from the TRAM procedure.
After I had my daughter, my ovaries and tubes were removed. After additional follow-ups and a C/T scan, I was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer. With at least three masses in my chest and in my lymph nodes. The masses are situated within the mediastinum. At that point no operation could be done. The mediastinum is very close to the nerves in my heart and lungs. It’s basically in the middle of my chest. I started chemotherapy and immunotherapy from January 2018 until September 2018.
Did the doctors see an improvement after nine months of chemo?
Yes. In June of this year(2018) the disease was stable. They stopped the chemotherapy when I was about eight months in because my body couldn’t cope. At that point I had three blood transfusions and one transfusion of platelets. But being off the chemo I started experiencing severe pains in my chest. Now I’m being offered another drug trial.
Are you going to try this new drug trial?
I look at it like this. If I’m going to cut down a huge oak tree, I’m not going to do it with a scissors. I’m going to accomplish this task with a strong power saw and other durable tools to cut the oak tree down. I believe I have to use the strongest tools which are chemo or drug trials because my cancer is inoperable. In addition, I reinforce my own personal elements by adapting a natural lifestyle. I do acupuncture, practice meditation, my food is comprised of only “ital” ingredients, this has been my diet all my life and most important, garnering unconditional “family love energy." This is what keeps me going. The chemo does its’ job and I do mine. One of my mantra is: "Don’t let your struggle become your identity and never underestimate the power of your mind." I use all these things and it seems to be working. This all started in 2006 from a stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis, the survival rate for this type of cancer is not good. It’s now been twelve years. I remember in 2006 I prayed very hard and said to myself, "I’m going to live beyond my first son’s 25th birthday." He just turned 21 on the 24th of October 2018. These are miracles that I’ve experienced, so it’s been good so far.
Having optimism is the key?
What could others learn from your experience coping with breast cancer?
My experience with breast cancer has taught me not only to cope with the medical side of things, you have to be mentally and emotionally strong; though it can be hard at times. But when you can aim for that, it makes the experience your own. When you get anxious, the feelings of hopelessness creeps in. But before that happens we need to ask ourselves questions like, What’s next? How can I deal with this? I ask myself, How am I going to deal with metastasized breast cancer? I tell myself, you are here to live and experience this life, so live it the best way you can. When I visit the hospital, I’m not there to only listen to my team of doctors. I go in armed with information about my disease. I have to be an informed patient.
You’re being vigilant about your disease?
Yes, it’s the responsibility I take on my journey. I know what treatments are being offered, and what I can receive. I’m a BRCA gene carrier, a Triple Negative carrier. African women develop Triple Negative breast cancer and the survival rate is very low.
What’s the survival rate from these drug trials?
It varies. The trial I’m on now has shown 67 percent survival rate. I know that I’m in this range of people who should be using it because I’m Triple Negative. As an informed patient, the doctors are motivated to work with you. You have to do the research. Just don’t sit back and take whatever the doctors tell you. Go online, go to the library, read medical journals. There’s so much you can do for yourself.
You have to know what treatment will work for you. Know the name of your chemotherapy. Get info about the type of cancer and the stage you have. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out about other choices of treatments.
The reason why I got genetically tested is because I kept telling myself, I cannot be 32 years old and have breast cancer. It cannot be. I’ve been told over the years by the medical community that if I’m not on the pill my chances of getting breast cancer would be less. I eat healthy, only ital food. I've been drinking distilled water out of glass bottles for many years. My children grew up like that. Then in 2006, I got diagnosed with an aggressive kind of cancer, Triple Negative. How does this happen?
Blacks and Hispanics women are more likely to be diagnosed with this type of cancer. However, Caucasian women have a higher survival rate. The drugs used for Triple Negative should be very much targeted in order for it to be useful. I have a young daughter whom I may have passed on the gene to. I want for her and for all other young little girls growing up to have a different outcome from breast cancer in the future.
How did the topless posts on Instagram came about?
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Growing up in the Caribbean, certain things we don’t speak about. We don’t talk about cancer. As a young woman when I was first diagnosed, I couldn’t relate to anyone. What does cancer look like? What does it feel like? To whom or where can I go to get information? I started searching on the internet and saw loads of Caucasian women talking about the disease. They didn’t mind sharing, so this is where one of my hashtags came from--#BeyondThePinkRibbon. I wanted people to understand what happens after you lose your hair. I wanted them to know what breast cancer looks like. At the time I didn’t see anyone representing me.
That’s why you did it?
Yes. Because it was time. Everyone raises money for breast cancer month, but don’t know the stories. Fiona, the photographer and I decided to show what it looks like through photography . So we did it. It took us about three years to post it. We only showed close friends and family. There were positive and negative responses. I also wanted men to understand that a breast doesn’t identify me. I was a woman before the mastectomy, and I’m still a woman after the surgery. That was my major reason for doing those photos.
What was the reaction from folks?
Ninety percent were positive, thankful and grateful. Mostly women. Maybe about twenty women contacted me with questions. Women who were already going through treatment and making decisions about mastectomy. I felt strongly that I did the right thing
You have two breasts now?
Yes. Two breasts without nipples.
Do you have any plans to have nipples?
It doesn’t really matter to me. I do have prosthesis and it depends like say in the summer time and I want to wear a t-shirt. It’s almost eight years and this is me. I can face myself in the mirror, look at my breasts and feel okay. I still crave for my original breasts, which is normal. They're gone but it’s something I reflect on. I’m a breastfeeder, I breast-fed my two boys. But when I had my daughter I had to give her formula. From an intimacy point of view between my partner and I, there are trial and errors. We’re still trying to figure out which is the best way to touch. I have some feelings here and there. So I tell him where to touch or bite! LOL!
Tell me about your children.
I’m raising three children. I’m dealing with an adult, a teenager and a brand new baby. My boys are excellent. My eldest is studying to be a support assistant. He’s in secondary school, my other son is doing really well. My baby daughter is 21 months old, so my hands are full. She's a miracle baby. I was told I could not have anymore children after the chemo, radiation and the TRAM surgery. I believe that she was sent to keep my brain functioning, to make me look forward to the future, to keep me busy, and she has done all those things.
Your photos on Instagram showed you with long dreadlocks. Do you still have long locks?
I just had my hair cut. Along with my boys, we sat down and clipped it. My scalp got weakened from all the chemo treatment. I now have short hair.
You don’t post that much on social media now?
Well, it’s just that I don’t get the time to. But I would like to be more interactive on social media in the future.
What are your goals and hopes for the future?
I would like to regain a certain amount of independence. In my mind I physically still feel as if I can do certain tasks. But my body doesn’t co-operate. I’m not able to walk ten minutes without feeling out of breath but it’s a work in progress. One of my first goal is to keep my energy through limited exercises and being outside every day. It might sound small, but for me that’s a big goal to achieve. I’m a special needs teacher and I would like to go back into teaching, at least maybe two days a week if I can. I just want to continue to live a full quality of life.
I don’t have huge goals. I want to keep on talking about these issues. I’ve started a petition with another lady that will allow women without breasts to be monitored diligently. Such practice is not happening at the moment. In my opinion, if I was offered more specific tests regularly, my breast cancer would not have metastasized. With us who are genetically inclined, we are not being offered mammograms. It should be offered and left up to women to make the decision whether or not she wants to be monitored.
So, that’s my goal right now, getting a hundred signatures. so that I can go onto what they call a “white paper”---proposal for government policies. With the "white paper” you have to get 100,000 signatures, then it goes into Parliament for changes and so on and so forth. Apart from that, I’m still living laughing and loving.