Anna Diagnosed at 32
Brian and I were engaged on Christmas Eve, 1999. In 2000, I spent the better part of my time arranging our wedding. I was 32 years old. The date for the wedding was set for March 31st 2001.
Sometime in January 2001, Brian noticed a flattened area below my left nipple. I performed monthly breast self-exams but I never noticed this flat spot. I blew it off to hormones, weight loss, anything, but I kept an eye on it. Gradually I noticed that it would flatten out even if I was standing up and just raised my arm up. However, I decided that I would wait and have it looked at after the wedding. The morning of our wedding, as I was getting ready, I showed my "spot" to my cousin, Krissy, who is also my best friend and matron of honor. "Aren’t you worried about it?" she asked. "Well, yes and no. But I'll get it looked at when we get back from the honeymoon."
The wedding went off without a hitch. Afterwards, Brian and I took off for Jamaica. It was wonderful. We promised that we would return in 5 years. While in Jamaica, I noticed that I could now detect a lump under the flat spot on my breast.
We arrived back in the states on April 8th and began our lives as a married couple. The Wednesday after we returned, I called my OB/GYN to schedule an appointment. My doctor decided that I should go straight to ultrasound, which was scheduled for the next day. When Brian and I arrived at the health center, we met a breast health specialist, who took me back to the ultrasound area. The technician performed the ultrasound, which the doctor looked at, and said, "We better do a mammogram too, just in case." After the mammogram, he said, "I think you need to see a surgeon and get this looked at."
The surgical appointment was set for 1 o'clock that afternoon, April 12th. Seven days earlier we had been sitting on a beach, soaking in the Jamaican sunshine. It seemed so surreal. That afternoon, the surgeon examined me, and performed a fine needle aspiration. Twenty minutes later, we had results. The doctor told us I had breast cancer. We were completely shocked. I can't even remember what else he said to us.
On May 2nd, a little over one month from our wedding day, I underwent 7 hours of surgery. I opted for a mastectomy with immediate TRAM flap reconstruction. My surgeon removed 16 lymph nodes; all were negative for cancer. Brian shaved his head after my first chemo treatment on Memorial Day weekend. When I began throwing up, he sat on the bathroom floor and held me. When my hair started to grow back, he put up with my constant dye jobs. I finished chemo and went on Tamoxifen since my tumor was progesterone receptor positive.
This year my husband and I returned to Jamaica as we had pledged to do. Five years ago we didn’t know if I would even be around to live up to that pledge. But I am, and we celebrate every day!
Breast cancer has changed every aspect of our lives. I know that I am incredibly lucky for my prognosis and I intended to make the most of my luck.
I went back to school and finished an MBA program in healthcare management. I went to work for the same hospitals where I was treated first in the Breast Health program, and in 2005 I became manager of the Cancer Genetics program.
I volunteer for the Young Survival Coalition both on a national and local level. I sit on the National Board of Directors and chair various committees and projects. I co-founded the Central Ohio Chapter.
Most likely I will not be able to have children, due, at least in part, to my cancer treatments. However, I feel the work and volunteer work I do every day helps ensure a better path for those young women who continue to be diagnosed. I feel I am making a difference in their lives and the lives of those who care for them. That will be my legacy. Thank you!
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