Young Women Can and Do Get Breast Cancer
Kim’s story Age at Diagnosis: 36
Spring of 2005 was the beginning of several changes for my family. My husband took a new job and we moved from Michigan to Pennsylvania with our two young daughters. Moving away from family and friends was hard, but I was determined to make this relocation work. Since I was a stay-at-home mom, I knew I needed to make an effort to meet new people. I began looking for a mom’s club and joined a book group.
With the logistics of moving and settling in, life was busy. I was 35, building a new network of friends and adjusting to my new home. Then, one day, I felt a lump on my right breast. I thought it was odd, since I only felt it when I was sitting upright, not when I was lying down. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling, but I also experienced a burning sensation in my breast. I had just stopped nursing my youngest child and thought it might be related. I made an appointment with my gynecologist.
The nurse told me these lumps at my age are typically benign; I was too young to worry about breast cancer. She also said,“no family history and we don’t worry about the ones that hurt.” I felt reassured that I was fine.
During this time, my husband and I were discussing having a third baby. We were eager to have another child, but I had a previous miscarriage that caused me to be given a high dose of progesterone to help me carry my children to term. I’d been told that if I did want to have another child I’d have to be put back on progesterone.
Though the nurse had told me not to worry about the lump I felt on my breast, it was still in the back of my mind, along with my husband’s. That October, my husband Todd, who worked for a pharmaceutical company, attended a breast cancer awareness event at his office. The speaker mentioned that in some women, estrogen and progesterone can act like miracle grow for breast cancer. Todd remembered that I had taken the high doses of progesterone and wondered if I should get a second opinion about the lump I found, just to be sure it was nothing.
In October of 2005, I was now 36. I went to my primary care doctor for a second opinion. He told me I should be too young for breast cancer, but we should still have it examined. I was sent for a mammogram and an ultrasound. The films showed multiple little tumors, as well as a large one on my chest wall, and I was eventually diagnosed with stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC).
Since I was now living in another state and away from my family, I knew I’d need help. The women in my mother’s club were an amazing support system. They helped me with the children when my husband was at work, and they made meals for my family for five months, as I went through treatment including a unilateral (single) mastectomy and reconstruction, chemo and radiation.
And remember the book club I joined? I’d never actually made it to a meeting, but when I called to tell them that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the members reached out to me. She was also young and had been through a diagnosis of breast cancer. Even though she didn’t know me at the time, she wanted to help and let me know she was available for support. I was also contacted by a mom at my older daughter’s preschool, who was a few years out of treatment. She had small children too and knew exactly what I was facing. She became my breast cancer “mentor.”
I was fortunate to find two young women who were able to provide the support I needed. Not long after I finished treatment, I saw a young woman wearing a bandana. I walked up to her and said, “I was you three months ago.” We stood in the parking lot and talked for three hours.
Stacey instantly became one of my best friends. She’d been looking all over for another young woman to connect with and couldn’t find anyone. We started meeting weekly for coffee, and I told her about the encouragement I’d received from the two women I’d met, and she told me how she had become comfortable with her decisions by going on to YSC’s message boards. Because she was familiar with YSC, Stacey also knew YSC was forming “chapters” in various cities and convinced me to start one in the Philadelphia area to ensure no other young woman would go through breast cancer alone as she had.
We worked hard for several months to get YSC’s name out to the medical and cancer community in the Philly area. Our goal at the time was to get the word out and help just one other young woman. At that first meeting in February of 2007, we had 15 women show up!
Five years later, YSC Philly is a robust group with over 600 women on our distribution list and an active group of volunteers. We started with our first meeting and now hold six monthly support groups in the Philly/Southern New Jersey area, including one for metastatic women. Now, I have a whole new network of survivor friends, who offer each other support and understanding when we need it the most.