Ariana Diagnosed at 44
In September 2013, I was adjusting myself into a new dress that was a bit snug on top when my thumb brushed against the lump in my right breast. I had just been to an OBGYN in August so I thought it might be an injury. During an exam the following week a doctor felt the lump and said she wasn’t concerned because of my age and it moved easily. She wrote out an order for a diagnostic mammography to make me “feel better” suggesting I wait a month to see if it was a temporary change due to my menstrual cycle. One month later - no change so I scheduled the mammogram.
When they told me I needed a biopsy I wasn’t surprised, I’d been through the process before on a benign fibroid tumor that was found in my left breast. However, this time the tech that was joking with me earlier was now looking at the screen with a furrowed brow and sense of urgency in her voice. I went in for the biopsy a few days later already knowing something was wrong. I caught a glimpse of a thing on the ultrasound monitor that looked like an alien creature with spikes all over it. I received my diagnosis 2 ½ weeks after my 44th birthday.
The nurse told me it was invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), grade 3 but the rest of the pathology wasn’t back yet (I would later learn that it was ER/PR-/HER2+). My mother’s best friend passed away after a battle with breast cancer so I thought that was my fate. The nurse started handing me folders and told me there were a number of doctors I needed to contact to start the treatment process. It sounded like a lot of work for someone who just received a cancer diagnosis. Through my tears I told her that her job must suck and I needed to leave and call my mom, sister and best friend.
The first week was emotional; because of chemotherapy I had to decide if I wanted to pursue reproductive preservation options. To make a conscious decision to not have children is one thing; it’s another to have cancer decide for you. My sense of hope started to engage when I finally met with my surgeon. She was the first person to say something positive about my HER2+ status when she said that it was great to have a “target.” I became even more hopeful when I met my oncologist who said the combination of lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation would reduce my chances of recurrence significantly.
The lumpectomy came back with clear margins and showed a stage 1 tumor with no lymph node involvement. I received 6 rounds of TCH chemo (Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin) and just finished 35 radiation treatments. I will continue receiving Herceptin every three weeks until the end of the year. I found YSC online early in my treatment and felt a lot of relief knowing there are other young survivors out there. The internet is filled with outdated information about breast cancer especially the prognosis of early stage HER2+ cancer which has greatly improved with Herceptin. If you are newly diagnosed I suggest reaching out to organizations like YSC and other survivors, they are a wealth of information and support.
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