Whitney Diagnosed at 27
This survivor story was originally published in September 2015. Whitney provided an update to her story.
It was early December when I received the phone call. It was raining pretty hard, and I was driving to a friend's house to babysit for the evening.
I'd been waiting nearly a week for this phone call. Or more accurately, almost a month - since I found the lump in my left breast while taking a shower one day. I was so startled by its presence, unsure of what I was feeling, that I even asked my mom to feel it. Here I was, soaking wet, draped in a towel, asking my mom to feel my breast at the age of 27. We both agreed that it was strange, but I decided to wait a few days before calling the doctor. Two days later, the lump was still there, hard as a marble and I was able to move it under the surface of my skin with my fingertips. I called the advice nurse who asked me when I was expecting my next period. When I told her it was the next week, she told me that it was common for young women with dense breast tissue to develop cysts before their cycle. I insisted that this was not normal and requested an appointment with my OBGYN for the following week.
When Wednesday arrived, and I found myself bare-breasted laying across Dr. Lee's exam table, the concern that clouded her face told me that the news wasn't good. She immediately booked me for an ultrasound at the breast care center for that same afternoon where I had another exam and an ultrasound of the breast and armpit. I then had an appointment for a biopsy for a few days later. Over the course of 3 1/2 weeks,
I was ushered from doctors office to doctors office, fielding phone calls and making appointments. When all the tests were over, and I received the one phone call I'd been anxiously awaiting, my world stopped. Maybe it's vain to say this, but my first thought was "I'm going to lose my hair." Then, slowly as more phone calls and more appointments marked my calendar, I realized what else I had the potential to lose. My breast. My fertility. My body that I had worked so hard for.
While the month carried on and friends were posting on social media about their lives moving forward - engagements, weddings, pregnancy announcements - I felt as if my life were at a standstill. Here I was, 27, and making life decisions that no one should ever have to make. In the course of my treatment, I had a lumpectomy and auxiliary lymph node dissection, was tested for the BRCA gene, consulted a fertility specialist, decided to freeze eggs, had two Lupron injections to shut down my ovaries, had a portacath placed in my chest, underwent 6 rounds of TCHP chemo while using Chemo Cold Caps to save my hair, followed by 30 rounds of radiation, and 12 additional herceptin only infusions. I'm now a year and a half in to a ten year course of the hormone suppressant Tamoxifen.
To say that the last 3 years has been a rollercoaster is a grave understatement. But my cancer has taught me a lot about myself - what kind of person I want to be and how I want to live my life. I do my best not to take anything for granted. I've since gone on a surfing trip to Maui, and a rock climbing trip to New York, both with fellow cancer survivors. I've traveled to Atlanta for a YSC conference. I fundraise for an organization called Barbells for Boobs. And right now I'm celebrating my 30th birthday on my first solo trip in Bali.
Nearly 3 years have passed since that dreaded phone call that I thought had shattered my entire world. But looking back now, I'd like to think I've done a fairly good job at picking up the pieces.
Here are a few pieces of advice for other young women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
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