31 and unaware

I was 31 when I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.  It never crossed my mind to write anything about my personal experience, but I thought that perhaps now that I am 8 years out and cancer free, it’d be valuable to other people to learn about my journey. The purpose: To raise awareness.

There is no breast cancer screening done in women under 40 in the U.S.  I was not one to do breast self-examinations.  I still don’t.  For some strange reason, I found the lump myself.

Aside from raising awareness, I want to help other young women have a successful voyage during breast cancer treatment.  How?  Well, I was there.  I was floored by the idea of losing my life at 31.

I did not know anything about cancer, at least nothing good.  I was not prepared to be sick. I was not ready to give up. I wanted to fight, but at that moment I did not think it was slightly conceivable to win any battle, I was already defeated because I did not know anything, I was blind.

Not knowing is perhaps your biggest enemy.  

I think about the day when I first learned about my diagnosis and the feelings of distress, panic, anxiety, shock, and stress immediately come back.  I quickly realized that the wrong group of doctors handled my case so I decided to contact a friend at Mass General Hospital (MGH). He pointed me in the right direction and recommended an Oncology surgeon right there at MGH.

It was 6:00 PM on a Friday when I got to the hospital. All the staff was gone, but my surgeon was waiting for me.  I spent about an hour with her and learned a lot about breast cancer:  What it is, where it is located, how it progresses, etc.   

Ten Facts About Breast Cancer

She helped me understand everything with drawings and, what I thought were the most sincere and hopeful words.  I loved her.  I left the hospital feeling a tad better.  I can’t say that I was super positive or optimistic but at least I understood my disease and my options.

I was educated.  The following week, I was scheduled to get an MRI to know the exact location of the tumor.  After that, I had a date for surgery.  My doctor successfully removed the tumor and 19 lymph nodes.

That was the easy part.

After slightly recovering from surgery, I met with an oncologist – also at MGH.  We discussed what my treatment was going to be for the next 6 years:  Chemotherapy, Herceptin, Radiation Therapy and 5 years on a drug called Tamoxifen.  This was the standard of care at the time for a woman my age and my type of breast cancer.

Then the hard work began. Getting breast cancer turned my life around and forced me to reevaluate my whole life: my husband, my career, my life…. And what I wanted out of it.

I don’t have it all figured out by any means but all of this self-discovery led me to become a mom, the most rewarding experience of my life.