Melissa's Story, diagnosed at 30

My name is Melissa Robles Altamirano and I am 32 years old. During a visit to my oncologist I told my doctor about a continuous pain I was experiencing on my left breast, along with nipple discharge. I was really embarrassed and didn't want to tell my doctor, but I am so glad I did. He sent in a sample and 6 weeks later I received a phone call at work. I was told that I needed to go have a mammogram and to schedule an appointment with a surgeon because the test found abnormal cells. When I asked why, they told me it was just routine and that everything was probably fine. At that moment, my life flashed before my eyes.

I did exactly as I was told. I went for my mammogram and the images revealed a small area of clustered calcifications. I took my images with me to the appointment that I scheduled with the surgeon. The surgeon was very confident that everything was fine since I was only 30 years old. To be on the safe side he sent me in for a biopsy. The biopsy revealed that the small area of concern was malignant. My surgeon said I had early stage breast cancer. He also said that since it was found early that it was very treatable.

My treatment plan was to have a lumpectomy and radiation treatments. I was treated with Mammosite 5 day targeted radiation therapy. That wasn't the end for me. The next treatment plan was to start taking Tamoxifen. Unfortunately I couldn't start this medication until I had a hysterectomy, because I had endometriosis. So I had a full hysterectomy 3 months later just to be able to start the Tamoxifen.

Throughout the next year, I continued having issues with both breasts that were unrelated to the past lumpectomy site. I had numerous MRI's, mammograms, and ultrasounds, which revealed more problems. I underwent 6 more painful biopsies and I was on close cancer surveillance. All of the biopsies came back as pre-cancerous conditions, but due to the previous cancer and these conditions, I was at high risk of getting cancer again.

The only option I had was to have a full breast mastectomy. On May 30th, 2008, I had a full breast mastectomy. The surgery went well and 7 weeks later I had my first reconstruction surgery. On July 18, 2008 the expanders were placed behind my chest muscle and 3 weeks later I started getting weekly saline injections. This was the hardest part for me. I felt like someone was ripping my chest apart.

I spent 2 months in bed and I couldn't do anything at all by my self. My husband John had to take time off of work to care for me. I was in so much pain that I wasn't even able to get out of bed, unless someone lifted my back up for me. I thank God everyday that my husband was by my side the entire time. I wouldn't have been able to get through this without him.

We had really hard times financially since I wasn't able to work. My 14-year-old daughter Valorie started a fundraiser to help us, and my sister-in-law Victoria also helped raise money. Sometimes that money was all we had for food. I also have friends and family that helped me out financially, and I will never forget their support. I just had the second surgery for reconstruction on October 24th, 2008. I walked out of the facility feeling so good. I can't believe it's almost over.

It's been a long 2 years for myself and my family. Now I just have to decide if I will be having nipple reconstruction. At this point I don't even want to see another needle for a while…so maybe I'll save that for next year. Maybe my life will go back to normal, although I'm not the same person anymore and I don't know If I will ever be. One thing that's for sure is now my dad won't have to worry anymore.

My heart goes out to every woman out there who wasn't as fortunate as I was. I just want to say don't give up, stay strong and have courage.