Young Women Can and Do Get Breast Cancer
Mikala’s story Age at Diagnosis: 25
I‘d just started a new job; I was 25 years old and studying to get my master’s degree in Public Administration. My first priority was not getting to my gynecologist’s office for my annual exam. I thought about pushing my appointment back and almost got around to doing it several times. Then, one day in the shower, I felt a lump or at least what I thought was a squishy chunk in my left breast. My mom and several of the women on her side of the family suffered from breast cysts, but I thought I should bring it to my doctor’s attention when I saw her.
That week I did go to the doctor and though she thought it would prove to be just a cyst, based on my age and family history, she ordered an ultra sound and a mammogram to be on the safe side. When I had the mammogram done, I found out the orders were only for my left breast, I was shocked they would only screen the left breast, since if there was something there, than there might be something in the right breast. In addition to the cysts that were an issue in my family, I started to think about my brother. That he had fought testicular cancer at 25. I wanted to know if I was in for a battle. A few hours later, after I raised heck, I was cleared to have both breasts screened. The right breast was clear, but the doctor wanted to biopsy the mass in my left breast.
My doctor never dissuaded me from having the mass examined, and I am grateful she didn’t. The next week, I had the mass biopsied. The following day, I was told what no young woman imagines hearing: that I had breast cancer. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma stage 3B. I was doing well at work, I was determined to finish my degree and I was carrying a 4.0 GPA. Cancer had not been part of my plans, now I was being faced with a curveball being thrown at me.
I have always been determined, whether it was a goal at school, work or in my personal life. My biggest aim from the time I was young, was to be a wife and a mother. Cancer was changing my plans at school and work. It showed me a 4.0 was not the only thing that was important and that maybe the demands of my job could wait. The dream it didn’t derail was that of having a family. When my brother was diagnosed with cancer, he was already married with one small child. He and his wife did not want to have their options limited, so had his sperm frozen. Knowing this and that I wanted children, I asked about fertility preservation.
I was told by my oncologist that I didn’t need to worry about fertility preservation and that I should consider starting chemotherapy right away. A week after my diagnosis, I was sent for my fist chemo treatment. I didn’t have my port yet and the nurse struggled with the set up for the intravenous (IV) drugs. Because of the difficulties with the IV, I did not start chemo that day but four days later, after my port was successfully in place.
Now I am struggling with the after effects of treatment, the physical changes to my body — to the body of a single, 25-year-old woman who still wants to meet “the one,” who still wants to be married and who still wants to be a mom. I had a double mastectomy, based on my diagnosis and family history. I have begun the reconstruction process and have expanders, but my new breasts are not yet complete. I affectionately call my breasts my “Frankentities.” My girlfriends outside the cancer world are uncomfortable; maybe even mortified when I speak about them like that, but this is my new reality.
What has been an unexpected blessing was meeting an amazing group of young women who have become my cancer girlfriends. When I was diagnosed and first started treatment, I met young women in their 30s through YSC, most of them were married and had small children. I wasn’t there yet; I wanted to be able to meet other women in their 20s who were facing the challenges of being single and dating.
In 2012, I was able to attend C4YW, the Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer. It was an amazing experience to see all of these women at every stage of diagnosis and survivorship. It gave me hope and inspiration. It also provided an opportunity to meet five young ladies who were also in their 20s. They too were dating, struggling and scared about their future.
Now when I want to make silly comments about my reconstruction or cry for the 15th time in a row, I can call one of these incredible women or send them a quick text. I know I am never too far from someone who gets me. Though my family and friends have been wonderful and they try to support me, there are times when you just need to be able to talk about your Frankentities and have someone on the other end of the phone laugh back.