Young Women Can and Do Get Breast Cancer
Janice’s story Age at Diagnosis: 22
I knew from the time I was in high school that I wanted to become a structural engineer. I strategically picked my college so I would already be on track for my graduate work. I choose to attend Georgia Tech, in my home state, and knew I would be able to complete my education there. Getting through school was my top priority.
When I was 22, just three weeks from completing my undergraduate degree, my life changed. My mother, though reserved, had always made certain that my siblings and I were comfortable with our bodies, so when I found the lump, I knew something was different. I found it in my left breast in December of 2007. Knowing I had my annual gynecologist appointment the following March, I waited for that appointment to have it looked at. After the exam, I was scheduled to see a specialist for a biopsy. The biopsy took place in April, and just as I was preparing to graduate, I was told I had breast cancer. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), stage 2, and I was triple positive, meaning I was estrogen positive (ER+), progesterone positive (PR+) and HER2-positive.
I had previously told my boyfriend, Andy, that I was concerned when I found the lump was and was going to have it checked out. So when I received my diagnosis, he was the first person I told. Andy was in the Army, and fortunately, he was stateside when I was diagnosed. He was able to come home that day and be with me. Then it was time to tell my parents.
My parents are divorced, and I wanted to tell them at the same time. I waited until the following Tuesday when I could have my mother, father and stepmom all together. Andy and I used the ploy that we wanted to speak with them about a graduation party. When I said I didn’t want to talk about a grad party, my mom was all smiles and immediately thought we’d gotten engaged. When we said no, she then thought we might tell her we were pregnant, but she never thought I would be telling her I had breast cancer. After my parents knew, I needed to tell my siblings, all five of them … and then I had to tackle telling my professors.
Since I was an engineering major, all of my professors were men. This did not make telling them that I had breast cancer easy. It made me feel uncomfortable to have to talk to them about my breasts, but I was more worried about telling them that I might need special consideration to help meet my upcoming deadlines.
My professors were wonderful. I received the support I needed and was amazed at how understanding they all were. Now that I knew school was taken care of, it was time to start getting my treatment plan underway. I was going to have chemotherapy followed by a bilateral mastectomy and TRAMS flap reconstruction and would take Tamoxifen for the next five years.
I’d just moved in with Andy, and he was planning to be my main caretaker. The unknown element in that plan was that he was active duty and would be called away for training several times prior to the deployment we knew was coming in April of 2009.
As a 22 year old living with my boyfriend, I was trying to assert my new found independence, as I struggled with allowing my parents to help take care of me. Andy was amazing and did play the role of main caretaker. I am grateful I was able to have him at my side during most of my treatments. I even had him home for the first part of my reconstruction surgeries. Though we knew he was scheduled to deploy, when it happened, I was still not prepared. I’d been hoping to be lucky enough to have him at home until all my surgeries were completed.
As any military family knows, it is a challenge in the best of circumstances to have a loved one deployed overseas. But when you are in the midst of a major life occurrence, like expecting a child or a family illness, it is intensified. Throughout his deployment, Andy did everything he could to stay connected. He even arranged a phone call to speak to me before one of my surgeries. Unlike some military families who are not able to make contact during a deployment, I’m grateful we had that opportunity.
We are now married, and Andy is stateside again. I have finished my degrees and I’m working as a structural engineer. We don’t know what the future holds, but, for now, we are together and life is good.