Jennifer Diagnosed at 30

"I don't want to identify myself with anything cancer. Yes, it happened to me but no, it is not a part of who I am. Like any other negative experience in your life, you get through it, you learn from it, and you move on."

My story began when I was checking my breasts one morning and felt a small lump. My heart sank immediately.  It did not feel right. I had been diligent about self-checking, I had a base-line mammogram at 29 and regular 6 month breast health checkups since. My mother had breast cancer at 35 and passed away 6 years later. It was in the back of mind somewhere as I approached my thirties.

When I got in to see my doctor, she felt the lump and scheduled me right away for an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy. And all the while, with everyone’s reactions I just knew it wasn’t going to be good news. June 9th, I received the phone call that I had a breast cancer. It really did shatter my world at that very moment.  But I quickly picked myself back up.  I lost both my parents at a young age and so I had experienced a traumatic childhood. I came out on top that time; I could certainly do it again. 

My appointment later on informed me the lump was 1.7cm. Soon I discovered I was triple negative, brca1+ and my breast MRI showed no other areas of suspicion or lymph node involvement.  I started chemo right away. I was 30 years old.

When I emerged from the other side of chemo alive and surprisingly vibrant I had decided on a nipple sparing double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I was very pleased with the results.  It is very important to find a surgeon who will aesthetically give you what you want. I had decided to keep my ovaries until after children. 

Surgery was a success.  Although it was not PCR the tumor was badly beaten down and less than 1 cm.  The 3 nodes they removed were all benign and the breast tissue between my tumor and my nodes were also benign. I was so relieved to say the least.  It wasn’t until that moment that my husband and I felt we had a future again.  And what a weird thing it was to be presented with your mortality at such a young age. Yes, young women get breast cancer but I didn’t know any of them personally besides my mom. 

There were some very dark thoughts during treatment. When you first hear you have cancer you immediately think the worst.  I hated telling people and seeing that look of pity. I didn’t feel sick, I certainly didn’t look sick. And I knew deep down I wasn’t going to die from this. I wanted to be telling friends and family normal news of a 30 year old woman. I am pregnant, we bought a house, I got a raise! Not I have breast cancer… it’s very heartbreaking.

You read so many negative things about triple negative breast cancer. I really had to dig deep in my research to find hope. I found many women don’t even know there are different types of breast cancer.  They don’t understand even early stage triple negative patients are advised to do chemo.   I had people asking me, if it’s not spread to your lymph nodes why can’t you just have surgery and radiation? I had people questioning my doctor’s recommendations and my second opinions. But what we have to remember is that I am not the first person to receive this news at age 30. And unfortunately I will not be the last. And the only good news about that is the medical field knows what to do, they’ve seen it before and they’ve cured many.

But the truth is there are positives about triple negative. You have to focus on your blessings.  One of my many blessings was I caught it early. My other blessing was my health at the time I started treatment. I was healthy! So I sailed through quite well and was able to jump on that health train immediately afterwards, keeping up with my daily exercise, plant based diet and happy attitude. My third blessing was my husband, going to every appointment with me and making sure I was comfortable through it all.  And we had a lot of fun in between a lot of not fun times. 

Another positive for me was my brca1+ gene mutation. Having this gene along with your cancer diagnosis actually gave me a better prognosis than just having triple negative without the gene mutation. Which I always thought was interesting and still don’t quite know why but I’ve read it in many research articles plus my survivorship doctor showed me the chart.  The first two years show the cancer’s percentages of most likely to “return” and then falling drastically after that.  And after 7 years, you are a free bird! 

I am now one year out and I don’t like to use the words to describe myself as a “breast cancer survivor” or “thriver” or “in remission.”   I don’t want to identify myself with anything cancer. Yes, it happened to me but no, it is not a part of who I am. Like any other negative experience in your life, you get through it, you learn from, and you move on.   If someone wants to ask, I tell them I am cancer free but still being monitored.  But I secretly wish they would ask me other more meaningful questions like how’s your life now? What excites you? What makes you happy?

This is because the answer to those questions means so much more.  My life now is even more amazing.  My husband and I are more in love and more close than before. I’d much rather answer the questions that people who aren’t recently recovered from a chronic illness get to answer, like when do we plan to buy our first home and start a family?  And how is that job you love coming along?  And our most favorite, where is the next place you are traveling going to be? Because my answer would be Costa Rica with the love of my life. If you’re like me you know that going someplace new makes us feel alive.  And since being faced with my own death, I feel even more alive than ever.

One way I have been trying to give back is through the Young Survival Coalition. I became the State Leader for the Santa Rosa, California area last year and am continuing efforts the best way that I can. I hope to be of help to other young women newly diagnosed so they can feel more connected to the resources that we have available in this area.

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