Young Women Can and Do Get Breast Cancer
Brandi’s story Age at Diagnosis: 39
My sister-in-law had just told me that not only were her annual mammograms more than uncomfortable, but also that mammograms weren’t the most reliable screening test for her because she had fibrous breasts. I made a comment similar to “Oh that sounds like a lot of fun! You’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming to my first mammogram.” After that remark, my sister-in-law made an appointment for me to have my first mammogram done when she scheduled her next annual screening. I was 39 years old. Since I was under the age of 40, it was supposed to be a baseline screening, which is done to create reference point with the goal of noting any changes to your breasts in subsequent tests.
I was expecting it to be unpleasant, but the test went well and was easy enough. I didn’t experience any discomfort. Then I got the phone call that changed my life and led me down the road with cancer. My films showed calcifications, and the doctor wanted to investigate further. I’d never found a lump or anything that seemed suspicious. I was told I could either wait six months or elect a biopsy. I spoke with my husband, who happened to be an internist at the hospital, and we decided to get another opinion. The second radiologist’s opinion we sought happened to be a friend of the family and he suggested I have the biopsy. He was a trusted friend, and we valued his opinion, so I had the test.
My diagnosis was early stage high grade, comedo ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). I learned my cancer was very aggressive, and, since it had been detected early, my treatment options were favorable. I was grateful I’d opted to have the biopsy, and that, as a result of this, my cancer was caught early.
I was 39 and married with two young children. There was a lot to stick around for, and I planned to do just that. I had premature ovarian failure due to issues that occurred earlier in my life, and, after the birth of my first child, we decided to adopt to add another child to our family. So fertility preservation was not an issue for me at this stage of my life.
Not long after my diagnosis, I had a bilateral (both breasts) mastectomy. I opted to have expanders implanted because I wanted to have reconstruction later on. A week or so after my surgery, I ventured out to purchase a few button-up sweaters. Between healing and carrying surgical drains, I found it difficult to put on over-the-head shirts. I was in a department store when a lovely sales associate asked if she could help. Honestly, I didn’t want to speak with anyone, much less allow her to assist me. But, I’m so glad she did.
She observed my posture, the way I walked and asked if I’d had surgery. Her English was a little broken, but when I said yes, she asked if it had been for my breasts. I said it had. A minute later, she took me to see another sales woman, named Jill. Jill asked if I had breast cancer and what type of surgery I’d undergone. She was so kind. I found out that she also had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had endured a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction just a year before. What happened next surprised me, but was wonderful as well. She took me into the dressing room, showed me her reconstruction, told me I’d get through it … and that everything would be okay. I walked out of that store with the sweaters I needed and also a new friend who is still near and dear to me.
In addition to meeting Jill, I also found YSC. My doctor had given me some information, along with a name that looked familiar. The name was Jennifer Johnson. Not only was Jennifer the director of the local YSC Kansas City affiliate near me, but she also co-authored a book that had been given to me by a close friend called, “Nordie’s at Noon.” She had been diagnosed with this disease at the age of 27, while five months pregnant and had gone on to tell her story to help others.
I decided I wanted to be a voice for young women and raise awareness that young women get breast cancer. That opportunity arose last year when I interviewed for and received the title of Mrs. Kansas, which allowed me to compete in the Mrs. International Pageant. Participating in pageants was not something I grew up doing and not how I viewed myself. I was a competitive swimmer and athlete. But I learned this pageant was different and focused on how a person gave back to her community and enriched the lives of others. I thought: “This could be a platform for me to help other women understand that pre-menopausal breast cancer exists and get anything suspicious immediately checked out.” I was selected as Mrs. Kansas International 2012, placed in the top 10 out of 56 amazing women from the United States and from around the world at nationals and am now utilizing this platform to speak out and generate awareness that young women can and do get breast cancer.
Worldwide, I inspired over 2 million people to take action through the creation of my PSA Videos “Don’t Wait for the Lump.” In addition to being able to speak with young women, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a series of educational videos designed to help train our physicians on how to properly train women on the best way to do self breast exams. The videos are available to the general public at dontwaitforthelump.com. Additionally, and, with the most pride, I created the mammogram initiative “Don’t Wait for the Lump, Party with a Purpose” for several local school districts. Building awareness and saving lives. This is my mission and one day will become my legacy.