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.
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.