Young Women Can and Do Get Breast Cancer
Lori’s story Age at Diagnosis: 37
My mother’s younger sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s and passed away in her 40s. My mother was diagnosed herself at 62 and died the same year. I was aware I had a higher risk of developing breast cancer and conscientious about my breasts from a young age. At the age of 35 I spoke with my gynecologist about my family history and was classified for high-risk screening, which meant my insurance company would cover early mammograms and continuous screenings.
In addition to my regular exams and screenings, I entered a research study I heard about on a radio commercial. A local breast surgeon was looking was for participants for a breast cancer study focused on high-risk women. I decided to call and qualified for the study, which entailed having a clinical exam every spring and fall as well as a ductal lavage. The additional test was an effort to detect cancer cells earlier by studying the ductal cells.
In 2006, at the age of 37, my husband and I separated, and I was preparing to be a single parent of two boys. The last thing on my mind was breast cancer. That changed during a routine self-breast exam, when I found a lump. I knew this needed to be investigated, but I had so much on my mind, and it was close to my annual exam, where I expected to have a mammogram as was now normal for me.
During the appointment, the nurse practitioner did a basic exam and was concerned when she felt the lump. She wanted me to return the next day for a mammogram because the radiologist would be in the office and could read the results immediately and conduct an ultrasound, if necessary. I was sharing a car with my ex-husband and knew coordinating this would not be easy, but I agreed to it. I was scared. Why else would the nurse want the radiologist to read the test so quickly?
Because of my separation, I moved into my friend’s upstairs apartment. I explained to her what was happening, hoping she’d be able to lend me her car. She did something better, she insisted on coming with me.
The following day, I had my mammogram, along with an ultrasound. The doctor said he also wanted me to have a biopsy of the mass that day, if possible. The biopsies were done in the same facility, just a few floors down. The tech made sure I had an appointment for that same day. I was grateful my friend had come with me. I needed her support. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), stage 2B. My cancer was triple negative and had spread to my lymph nodes.
I needed to do two things. I had to tell my boys and speak with my ex-husband. Before my mammogram, I let my boys feel the lump in my breast; I wanted them to understand that there was something in mommy’s body that might have to be removed.
Telling them the lump was cancer would be hard, but I needed to be honest, and I wanted them to understand as best they could. I didn’t want them to be scared when I went for surgery or started treatments, which included a bilateral (double) mastectomy, chemotherapy and an oophorectomy. I decided it was important to me to keep my cervix and my insurance company would not allow me to have a hysterectomy and retain my cervix.
Now, I needed to talk with my ex-husband. We had separated and were talking about divorce. The catch was his job provider’s family’s health insurance. My job did not offer me insurance, so I needed him to agree to keep me on his insurance policy. To add to the challenges I was already facing, my doctor’s told me that my job was not the best environment for me. I worked with pre-school age children who were often sick. I would not be able to work in that environment with a compromised immune system.
In addition to working with small children, I had been teaching belly dancing for several years. My financial situation would not be good if I had to quit my full-time job, and I’d need to find a way to cover my deductibles and basic living expenses. I made a point to continue teaching belly dancing once a week, even scheduling chemo so I would feel strong enough to teach since chemo can significantly affect energy levels.
Finances remained tight. It was a scary time. I was fortunate to have friends that rallied behind me. Several of my close friends, including some from the belly dancing community, held fundraising events including yard sales and a bar night to help. They were able to raise enough money to help me cover a large amount of my hospital bills. What I couldn’t pay, I spoke with the hospital social worker about. She was able to help me work it out with the hospital and have some of the cost written off.
Today my life is on a new track. I am back to working with preschoolers and love the energy and vitality they have. I continue to teach belly dancing, and it still brings me a lot of joy. In fact, I taught a class at the 2012 C4YW, (Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer) conference and will be at the 2013 conference in Seattle, Washington.
I am now remarried to a wonderful man I met on New Year’s Eve in 2010 and our children are blending together into a new family. For me, breast cancer has not been an easy road; it isn’t for any woman, but it’s led me to this new place in my life, and that is my silver lining.