Ania Diagnosed at 23

"I can't even begin to explain how many times I have heard "You are only 23 years old and you have breast cancer?!""

I can’t even begin to explain how many times I have heard “You are only 23 years old and you have breast cancer?!”  The more I heard it, the angrier I got.  I could not understand why it was so hard for people to believe that someone like me could have breast cancer.  The shocking thing is most of these people worked in the medical field.  So that made me think, is it really that uncommon?  Or are the people in today’s society really that naïve?  I knew I had to do something about that; I had to share my experience and be that voice to provide any encouragement to someone else going through the same situation.  Thanks to my doctor I am alive today, and willing to do what it takes to spread my message and thoughts about breast cancer.

Almost every story I have read or heard of is pretty much the same.  A young woman finds a lump on her breast, makes an appointment with her family doctor, and is told that women at such a young age do not get breast cancer, that it’s a fibrocystic lump, fatty tissue, and say to come back in a couple of months if the lump is still there.

Now I ask you, does that sound normal?  Unfortunately, most women do just that; they leave the doctor’s office and don’t think twice about it.   What really makes me angry is how shallow these doctors are. Who are they to tell us that we are not old enough for a disease as such to invade our bodies? 

Yes, I was only 23 years old, and yes, I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer.  I remember it as if it just happened yesterday when I received the call with the news.  It all started in February of 2005, two days after Valentine’s Day.  It was an ordinary day; I woke up, got ready for work, a regular routine.  Who would have known that that day would change the rest of my life?  As I was at work sitting at my desk, I got an itch, the shirt I had on that day just did not seem to agree with my skin.  As I scratched my chest I received a phone call. It was my ex-husband.  First thing he said was “What’s wrong?” I told him that I wasn’t sure but that I feel something really hard on my chest and it’s pretty big in size.  He said it’s probably nothing and told me to call my mom to see what she had to say about it.  When I spoke with my mother, she told me that just to be on a safe side, I should call my doctor and have it checked out.  I did just that.

February 17th.  First thing I did when I woke up: I walked over to the bathroom to check if the lump is still there, sure enough it was.  As I was sitting at the doctor’s office, I just could not help but think of all the bad things that could be wrong.  Even though everyone around me was telling me it’s nothing, I still could not stop thinking.  Finally my name was called. I walked into the room and was asked to put a gown on.  Doctor walked in shortly after and asked me a couple of routine questions, and then asked me to lie down so he can examine the lump.  He assured me I have nothing to worry about and told me I am still very young and he is 99.9% sure that it’s a fibrocystic lump.  Of course I did not know what that was so he explained to me that it’s fatty tissue.  When he told me that, I automatically felt relieved.  He asked me to schedule an appointment for an ultrasound the next day and he could take a closer look just to be on a safe side. 

February 18th.  There I was once again in the doctor’s office, although, this time I was not worried at all.  As the doctor proceeded with the ultrasound, he kept pretty quiet.  He noticed that I was shaking and thought I was really scared, but that was not the case, I was so cold and could not control my body from shivering.  When he was done, he asked me if I had any family history of breast cancer.  Since I had already asked my mom the same question, I replied “No.”  He told me that the lump is pretty big in size and wants me to see a specialist and get a needle biopsy. 

February 23rd.  Doctor walks into the room and began to explain the procedure of a needle biopsy.  It was quite simple; he placed the needle into the lump and said he was going to remove any fluid that is in there.  Once he is done, the lump will disappear.  Well, it did not seem to be that easy.  He was surprised as no fluid was coming out, but said I had nothing to worry about.  He assured me 99.9% it was nothing more than fatty tissue.  Just to be sure, he asked me to schedule a date for surgery so they can remove the lump.  Once the lump was out, it would be tested and I would be called with the results. 

Surgery was scheduled for February 28th, and it went well.  It was outpatient, so I was home the same day resting.  I felt great; I thought it was funny because I was really hungry.  I was in the mood for all of my favorite foods. I ended up having KFC, hot dogs and cheese fries.  My family thought I was crazy.  I ate as if I’d never seen food before.

March 3rd.  I received a call from my doctor’s office, and was asked to come in for further testing.  I knew something was wrong and became very emotional.  I asked if there is any way she can tell me over the phone what the results are. But she responded that she did not have the ability to do that and that my doctor was out of town.  My ex-husband was sitting next to me, at that time not knowing what was going on, and looked very confused and worried.  As I hung up the phone I could not control my emotions; I could not even get a word out to tell him what was going on.  He took the phone and called the receptionist back.  He told her that my sister was getting married in the Dominican Republic this year and we needed to make our final payment for the tickets. Her simple reply to that was “Please cancel your plans.” At that point he demanded to speak with someone in the office that can tell him what my results are.  As some doctor picked up the call, he told my ex-husband “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your wife (at that time) has cancer.”  At that point I still did not know what was going on. He put his arms around me and said “I’m so so sorry, but you have cancer.”

So that’s where it all began. I was on a mission to fight for my life, and that I did.  No one can begin to understand what I went through unless they themselves have experienced it.  I needed 6 treatments of chemotherapy and after I was done with chemotherapy I needed to undergo radiation. 

My first treatment of chemo started April 13th.  I received Taxotere, Adriamycin, and Cytoxan.  After each session of chemotherapy I also received a shot of Neulasta.  Neulesta is a drug that helps increase the number of white blood cells, and the side effect is bone pain.  This was by far the worst thing I have ever experienced in my entire life.  I have never been so sick or in so much pain.  But I tried to think positive the entire time, and I had my family there to give me all the support I needed. If it wasn’t for my family and friends I don’t know if I would be able to go through it on my own.  I don’t think people realize how important it is to have friends and family around.  A lot of people assume that when a person goes through such an experience in life that they need or want to be left alone.  Definitely not true.  That is when we need you the most. 

When I finished chemo, I was overjoyed.  The worst was finally over, and I thought if I could survive that, I can survive anything.  Even though the worst was over, I could not help but think about the future.  There was still that “What if it comes back?”

After some time had passed, I made a very hard decision that I knew would change my life forever.  I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy.  Even though I had undergone chemotherapy, I knew that if I can make this never happen again, and not have my family see me in such conditions, why not go for it.  So that I did. I called my doctor and asked if I can schedule a procedure to have both of my breasts removed.

On October 7th, I had my mastectomy.  I can’t say that the process was not painful, but it is definitely worth it.  As much pain as I was in, I do not regret my decision one bit.  I am very lucky to have so many people in my life who care for me. They have been nothing but supportive.  I owe everything to them and my wonderful doctors. 

I am a breast cancer survivor!  There are many of us out there, at all ages!  There is a reason why we are survivors; we need to share our stories, be that open ear, and have a shoulder to lean on.  This disease, any disease, is an eye opener.  It makes you realize that life is too short, and it may be taken from you at any time.  This disease made me who I am today, a fighter.  I now live every day as if it was my last and so should you. 

If this is your story and you'd like to update it, please email us at stories@youngsurvival.org.

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