Young Women Can and Do Get Breast Cancer
Devin’s story Age at Diagnosis: 30
Being diagnosed with breast cancer was a shock, but losing my health insurance changed my life. In 2009, I was in transition and trying to figure out what the next chapter of my life was going to look like. I was 30 years old and had just moved back to Las Vegas, where I had friends and a potential network. Having worked as a legislative researcher in my home state of Iowa, I was focused on how I could use those skills to find a new position in Vegas.
Early one March morning, while staying with a friend, I woke her in a frenzy. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating and asked her to “touch my breast.” Though she was a very close friend, she thought I was nuts until I pulled up my shirt. She confirmed I was not crazy and that there was a lump. We had plans to spend a wonderful Sunday afternoon at a local winery, and, since I couldn’t get into a doctor’s office until at least Monday without going to the emergency room, we decided to keep our plans and go to the winery.
Since I wasn’t familiar with the doctors in the area, I called the local Komen affiliate the next day for a referral. They were able to provide me with the names of a few doctors in the area. I started to make calls to see who could fit me in. When I saw the doctor, I was grateful that she did not dismiss me or make me feel that I was too young to possibly have breast cancer. She did a physical exam, then I had an ultrasound and underwent a biopsy that extracted several samples. I left with a follow-up appointment for a week later and the notion that 80% of the time, a lump in the breast is benign and not to worry too much.
Two days later, April Fools’ Day to be exact, I got a call from the doctor. She left me a message to call her back, and I did. Toward the end of the day, when I hadn’t heard back from the doctor, my friend encouraged me to call again. When I did, the doctor told me I had breast cancer. My diagnosis was invasive ductal carcinoma, and it was triple negative. The doctor suggested genetic testing due to my age, the diagnosis of triple negative, and two grandmothers with a history of breast cancer.
With the knowledge that I had breast cancer and knowing that I purchased only a six-month independent health insurance plan when I left Iowa, I called the company to make sure that the treatments I needed would be covered. I was told yes, they would be covered since I was currently a customer, but that they would not renew my policy when it expired. This news created a tail spin. I now needed to not only tackle breast cancer, but I needed to deal with finding a new insurance policy and figuring out how to make sure all of my treatments would be covered. I had no idea how hard that would be.
After confirming that my current policy would cover my initial treatments, I found myself in constant battle with my insurance company, which kept trying to say that this was a preexisting condition. It refused to pay many of the bills, and I was beside myself. I was unemployed and living in a state with little support besides a few good friends. I needed to find help.
My family convinced me to move back to Iowa, at least during treatment. After I moved back home, doctors in Iowa suggested genetic testing as well since I didn’t have it done in Vegas. I decided to have the test done and found out I was positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, which consequently came from my father and his father based upon a link to a second cousin that found out when she participated in a study to learn more about the mutation.
Back in my home state and knowing that I needed help sorting out the issues with my health insurance, I began reaching out to my old networks in the health legislative arena. I hoped they might be able to provide me with some options. As a result of reconnecting with former colleagues in the Iowa legislature to advocate for my own health care needs, I became an avid advocate for health care for the under and non-insured.
This part of my journey led me to play an integral role in the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I even was invited to meet the President of the United States (President Obama) right after he signed the ACA law, due to my unyielding persistence in fighting for health care reform both personally and professionally. After taking such a public stance regarding the difficulties I was facing with health insurance and coverage, I knew I wanted to go back to work in the legislative world. I wanted to be a part of making change in the health care system.
This desire drove me to, where else, but the capital of the nation: Washington, D.C. I didn’t have a job, but I had the determination to make this work. A few months later, I was working as a consultant for a small business group focused on healthcare needs. In the years since, I’ve met my goal to work in Washington. I’m currently working as a lobbyist and dedicate my personal time to helping young women in the D.C. area who are facing breast cancer know that with YSC, they are not alone.