Young Women Can and Do Get Breast Cancer
Erika’s story Age at Diagnosis: 33, 38
I’d always known my breast were lumpy. It was something I’d discussed with my doctors, and I knew it could be a perfectly normal thing. I can’t say I ever really thought about breast cancer. In 2002, I thought I felt something odd in my right breast, and during my annual OB/GYN exam, I showed it to my doctor, who also felt the mass and recommended I have it checked out.
Tests were ordered, which showed three masses that concerned the doctors. There were two little ones and a large one; a biopsy was performed on the largest lump. It came back negative; there were no signs of cancer. In 2003, I switched gynecologists, and my new doctor decided to have me retested. This time they tested the smallest lump and I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) , stage 1 . My cancer was estrogen positive (ER+), progesterone positive (PR+) and Her2+.
At 33, I felt very fortunate. I had a great job as a flight attendant and very good health insurance. I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about how I was going to manage my work schedule. I had the unique ability to create a flexible schedule. I had moved to Atlanta, Georgia, with my ex-husband and then stayed after we divorced, so only my mom was able to come from New York State to be with me during my surgery and recovery. I had a unilateral (single) mastectomy on my right side and a lift on my left.
Physical fitness had always been a part of my life. I enjoyed working out, and it was important for my job. After my diagnosis, I started taking my workouts to a new level. I began to think beyond the gym and trained for my first half marathon and then a sprint triathlon.
Then in 2008, I found a new lump, again on my right breast. The mass was on the side of my nipple and almost looked like a second nipple. It was biopsied, and I received the same diagnoses as before. This time, I had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor. I had my implant removed and a tissue expander put in place so I could undergo radiation treatments. With this surgery, I was again lucky to have a flexible work schedule to accommodate my treatment. I was also fortunate to not experience any nasty side effects from treatment. I was again able to get back to my fitness program without being sidetracked for too long and began to look for other physical challenges.
As happenstance would have it, Young Survival Coalition (YSC) was holding its Tour de Pink (TdP), a cycling-based fundraiser, in Atlanta. I knew about YSC because I found it after my first diagnosis and had been volunteering with the organization as a trained survivor navigator. I’d been giving my time to help other young women figure out what it means to face breast cancer this early in life, the same way the organization had helped me.
Now it was time to get on my bike and let my body take this challenge for YSC. That first year, I rode 20 miles on my bike, and I would not consider myself a cyclist. For 2012, I’m putting on my sneakers to complete the 5K race portion of TdP Atlanta.