Jilda Diagnosed at 38
I have been diagnosed with breast cancer twice. I'm unusual in that both times, it was found very early, Stage 0, DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). While my prognosis has always been excellent, dealing with cancer has not been easy, as my husband put it shortly after my first diagnosis - "There's no such thing as a little cancer."
The first time I was diagnosed (July, 2003), I had just turned 38 and trying to start a family. My initial thought was - "I'm never going to be able to have kids." Fortunately, I was assured by my primary care doctor and oncologist that this was not the case. My treatment was fairly straightforward, lumpectomy followed by 6 weeks of radiation. After considerable deliberation and a 2nd oncology opinion, my husband and I opted to delay tamoxifen in order to start a family. We ended up doing fertility treatments and on my 39th birthday I found out I was pregnant. I gave birth to my first daughter, and then went on tamoxifen for year. I then stopped so we could try to have another child before my biological clock ended for good. We were successful (and without fertility treatment!). I had my 2nd child a few weeks after I turned 42.
In December 2007, when she was about 5 months old, I went in for a mammogram. At that point, I had not had a mammogram in over a year, and my oncologist wanted me to get one as soon as possible. That was fortunate for me, since once again, the mammogram yielded suspicious findings, that led to a biopsy, that once again led to a diagnosis of DCIS in the same breast as before.
While my two cancer had the same diagnosis my experience with each was nothing alike. Parenting is demanding and having two young children while trying to schedule doctors appointments and recover from major surgery was unbelievably stressful and this is when I found YSC and started meeting other women my age that had to deal with these same issues. They also had lots of helpful advice on what to expect from a mastectomy as well as helping me find a new oncologist when I ended up switching cancer care centers due to insurance issues. For a long time, this was the only place I felt I could talk about what it was like to have cancer. I was in a mom's group at the time, but whenever I mentioned the issue it was either "Oh you're so brave" or the subject was changed.
As I sat in group, I realized that I was unusually lucky for a young 2-time breast cancer survivor. My cancers had been caught very early when they were easily treated and I had avoided the side effects of chemo. I have since learned that I still am a cancer survivor and have to be concerned about potential recurrences as well as the effect of radiation treatment and surgery. I decided I wanted to do something to help breast cancer survivors. I started by pairing my breast cancer experiences with my science background and became an advocate reviewer. I now sit on cancer research panels and evaluate research grants for their potential impact on reducing the burden of cancer. I've also become more involved with the Young Survival Coalition. Last year I rode in the Tour de Pink and plan to do it again this year. Finally, I signed up to be a State Leader for YSC, where I'll be a liaison between YSC and the local community.