Young Women Can and Do Get Breast Cancer
Nicole’s story Age at Diagnosis: 34
When I was six years old, my mother passed away from a brain tumor. She’d lived her whole life knowing she had the tumor and was such a brave woman. She persevered, she lived her best life, including getting married and giving birth to me. My mother’s death was traumatic for my father; he decided to move us from New Jersey to California to start over and leave the painful memories behind. I grew up without a lot of family around but knowing my mother had loved me very much. My father always did what he thought was best and tried to give me the best possible life.
In 2004, I was 34 years old and married with two small children – four-and-a-half and two-years-old. I was an active stay-at-home mom and in the best shape of my life. I was even training for a half marathon, running nearly 20 miles a week. My mother in law had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996, and I had been doing breast self exams since then. When I found a lump in my right breast, I called my general practitioner (GP) and scheduled an appointment.
My GP thought I should have the lump investigated and scheduled me for a mammogram. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). I was told my cancer was stage 3 and I was estrogen positive (ER+), progesterone positive (PR+) and Her2nu negative. Cancer had not been on my radar. I actually used to think that since my mom died of it, I couldn’t possibly get it. That day, hearing my diagnosis, truly humbled me.
For me, the treatment choice was easy. I wanted to be as aggressive as possible. My desire was to be able to raise my children, to do all I could to be sure I’d be part of their lives for many years to come. I choose to have a bilateral (double) mastectomy with a TRAM/DIEP flap reconstruction. The surgery was followed by chemotherapy and radiation and a prophylactic hysterectomy and oophorectomy.
My husband was amazing. I knew he loved me and would do his best to see me through this. But, during this time, I knew that I needed to find more support. I started going to a general breast cancer support group. It was great, but I needed to talk to other young women who had experienced breast cancer — women who were raising small children, trying to run a household and serving as the main caregiver.
When I originally went to the oncologist, Young Survival Coalition (YSC) was recommended, but I wasn’t given a pamphlet or anything to take home, so I forgot about it. About four months later, I looked YSC up on the web and found its online message boards. I logged on and asked if there was anyone else on the boards in the Seattle area. I learned a group had been getting together there since 2001 and registered for my first YSC support group meeting.
When I met these young women, I found the group I needed. I recall speaking about the challenge I was having with my two year old at one meeting. After the surgeries, I couldn’t lift him into his car seat on my own. One of the other young moms turned to me and said “jelly beans.” I didn’t understand at first, but she explained that she used them to encourage her own two year old to get in and out of the car seat on his own while she was healing from her surgery. The advice made the group laugh, but it worked!!!
Those moments inspired me to want to do more and give back to my new breast cancer community. I began giving informal workshops at Gilda’s Club on how to talk to small children about breast cancer and help your child’s teacher understand the extra support they might need. I’d been an elementary school teacher when I first graduated college and during the beginning of my marriage, so this was a natural extension of what I could offer.
Those workshops led to a position working with Komen Puget Sound from 2008–2011 and eventually to joining the staff at YSC. Today, I am the West Regional Field Manager, helping to ensure that young women in this area of the country know that YSC is a resource and is here for them.