HomeHealthCancer nurse diagnosed with rare and aggressive form of breast cancer

Cancer nurse diagnosed with rare and aggressive form of breast cancer

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By Alexa Lardieri U.S. Deputy Health Editor Dailymail.Com

15:52 21 Jan 2024, updated 15:52 21 Jan 2024

  • Holly McCabe was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer at 30 years old
  • She is scheduled to undergone 16 rounds of chemotherapy and a mastectomy
  • READ MORE:  I thought I pulled a muscle but I actually had stage 4 lung cancer



A nurse from Colorado was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer after a patient prompted the 30-year-old to perform her first breast self-exam. 

Holly McCabe, from Denver, Colorado, was working as a nurse in an oncology hospital unit in when she was inspired by a cancer patient finishing her last round of chemotherapy.

As a nurse at St Joseph Medical Center in Denver, she always told her patients of the importance of breast self-exams, but never performed her own until August 2023. 

Ms McCabe said: ‘I had been a nurse for seven years when I started working in the cancer ward at St Joseph Medical Center, helping cancer patients through their painful experiences.

‘While I knew the importance of regular breast checks, I never really checked my own breasts until August 27, 2023. While at work, I saw a young woman “ring the bell” signaling her completion of chemotherapy treatment. It reminded me to go home and do a self-exam. I found a hard lump in my right breast.’

As a young healthy woman, now 31 years old, with no family history of breast cancer, Ms McCabe did not believe she was high risk. 

But after her exam and several follow-up tests, she was diagnosed with stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer in September 2023. 

As a nurse working in a cancer unit at St Joseph Medical Center, Holly McCabe always told her patients of the importance of self breast exams , but never performed her own until August 2023
In September, Ms McCabe began a treatment regimen that includes 16 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a second cycle that will span 12 weeks
Holly McCabe was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer at 30 years old after finding a lump in her breast
Holly McCabe was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer at 30 years old after finding a lump in her breast

After feeling the lump in her breast, Ms McCabe made an appointment with her doctor and was sent to get an ultrasound, where she said the examiner discovered something that was ‘worrying.’

This prompted her medical team to send her for a mammogram – an x-ray image of the breast. 

After the image confirmed there was a mass in her breast, the doctors performed a biopsy on the lump. 

The next day, as she was boarding a flight to her brother’s wedding, her doctor called and confirmed she had breast cancer. 

Not wanting to ‘interfere’ with her brother’s wedding, she kept her diagnosis a secret from family and friends for several weeks. 

It wasn’t until more tests and one week later that she received the stage-3 triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis, a more aggressive and rare type of the cancer.

Ms McCabe said: ‘When I heard my diagnosis, I felt numb. As a nurse, I knew the diagnosis was bleak. As the patient, I was terrified. Through processing the information, I felt my mortality, which at such a young age is hard to put into words.’

The above graph shows the case rates (blue and green dots) of breast cancer among women per 100,000 people compared to the death rate (red squares). As death rates have plunged, case rates are still rising. The blue and green dots are from two different databases tracking breast cancer rates over different time periods
Checking your breasts should be part of your monthly routine so you notice any unusual changes. Simply rub and feel from top to bottom, feel in semi-circles and in a circular motion around your breast tissue to feel for any abnormalities

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the US behind skin cancer. It accounts for about one-in-three of all new female cancers each year.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 310,700 new cases of breast cancer and 42,250 deaths from the cancer in 2024. 

The average five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 90 percent. 

And while death rates have plummeted 43 percent between 1989 and 2020 due to successful public health awareness campaigns, better screening and new drugs, cases are rising.

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for about 10 to 15 percent of all breast cancers. It differs from other types in that it tends to grow and spread faster, has fewer treatment options and usually has a worse prognosis. 

This type of breast cancer has an average 77 percent five-year survival rate, but depending on the stage of the cancer, that rate can be as low as 12 percent. 

Ms McCabe said it took several months for her to ‘process’ her diagnosis, but once she did, she knew she wanted to share her experience and connect with other breast cancer patients.  

Ms McCabe said it took several months for her to ‘process’ her diagnosis, but once she did, she knew she wanted to share her experience and connect with other breast cancer patients
Ms McCabe will ultimately need a double mastectomy with reconstruction, radiation, and nearly a year of immunotherapy
As a young healthy woman with no family history of breast cancer, Ms McCabe did not believe she was high risk.

She said: ‘It took around three months for me to process my diagnosis and emotions before sharing them online. I have always enjoyed creating and editing videos, and with this diagnosis, I realized I had something really valuable and important I could share to help others. 

‘I wanted to find other triple-negative breast cancer patients and survivors, especially my age. I have found that by sharing online and, in doing so, I have felt less alone. 

‘I receive daily messages from others going through similar or the same journeys that my content is helping them, and that brings me so much purpose during this phase of my life.’

The nurse’s TikTok is full of videos of her sharing the story of her initial diagnosis, treatment regimen, side effects, medical tests and results, as well as the emotional and mental struggle she faces as she is ‘mourning [her] life pre-cancer.’

She also revealed she met with a reproductive endocrinologist because chemotherapy treatments can cause infertility and she wanted to learn more about egg retrieval and freezing, which could allow her to have children after cancer treatments. 

Ultimately, Ms McCabe said in a video, she decided not to go through the process of retrieving and freezing eggs. She said doctors told her there is still a small chance she could have a healthy future pregnancy. 

In September, Ms McCabe began a treatment regimen that includes 16 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a second cycle that will span 12 weeks. 

She will ultimately need a double mastectomy with reconstruction, radiation, and nearly a year of immunotherapy. 

If residual cancer remains at the end of her treatment, she is prepared to participate in clinical trials. 

Despite her insurance coverage, Ms McCabe says she faces mounting medical bills and her medical team anticipates she will need to take a year off from work. 

To alleviate the financial burden, she has set up a GoFundMe account to help cover expenses.

The most difficult aspect for Ms McCabe is realizing the toll cancer takes. 

EXCLUSIVE: Woman diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer in her 30s claims doctors dismissed her symptoms as a side effect of birth control

A California woman diagnosed with breast cancer in her thirties has revealed her symptoms were initially dismissed as a possible side effect from stopping her birth control.

She said: ‘The treatment for this disease has made me feel like a stranger in my own body. 

‘Prior to my diagnosis, I felt I was in the best health of my life, so it has been quite a change physically. Emotionally, the treatment puts you through a lot. 

‘The medications all have side effects, altering your hormones and moods. On top of that, I deal with actively grieving my life before cancer. 

‘Life will simply never be the same for me after receiving this news and going through this treatment.’

But amidst her fears, the nurse has found solace and strength in the support of her TikTok followers.

She says their love, encouragement and kind words have helped her navigate the difficult days and reminded her of the importance of human connection.

Ms McCabe said: ‘Seeing others extend love, support, and kind words helps me get through the hard days. I am a highly ambitious and independent woman and always have been, but I have learned that there is beauty in the community and that all humans need others in this life.’

Through her TikTok, she also aims to raise awareness about the importance of regular breast self-exams and early detection.

Her message to others facing a similar diagnosis is to ‘Embrace the beauty that can be found even in the darkest of times. 

‘Each day granted is a precious gift; seize it.’

Ms McCabe added: ‘Discover your true passions and desires, then pursue them with unwavering determination. Life’s brevity and fragility should inspire you to live authentically and confidently, for it can be snatched away in the blink of an eye. You are never truly alone. 

‘There are others fighting similar battles all around you, waiting to connect and share in your journey. The beauty of community lies in our shared humanity, where our similarities far outweigh our differences.’

And on her GoFundMe fundraiser, Ms McCabe gave a piece of advice: ‘Reminder – check your breasts!’ 



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