Amanda, diagnosed at 29
After receiving my Master’s degree and working in Chicago, I decided to move to Colorado and continue my career as a social worker in Denver. I had always wanted to help others, and, though I was enjoying my work, I felt like I could do more. I was getting frustrated by the limitations of my position; when a case really got complicated or needed to move to the next level, I had to hand it over to the lawyers. I felt like this often happened at a critical point when working with a client. I decided that I wanted to go back to school and get my law degree. I no longer wanted to hand my clients over to the lawyers; I wanted to be the lawyer that saw the case to completion. I began applying to law schools and was accepted both in Denver and in my home state of Missouri.
In June 2010, as I was lying in bed one morning, I stretched my arm up and as it came down, my hand landed on what felt like a lump below my armpit on my right side. I had worked out the night before, and my first thought was that I might have pulled a muscle. I wasn’t sure what it was but knew it wasn’t normal for me. I called my general practitioner (GP) and made an appointment. My GP said it wasn’t a pulled muscle, maybe it was a cyst, but I should have it checked out. She told me it was most likely nothing because I was so young. I was sent to have an ultrasound. The tech did the ultrasound, and it was not a fluid filled cyst, so the next step was to have the mass biopsied. I quickly scheduled the biopsy and waited for the results.
I received a call the following Tuesday at my office but was away from my desk. After I got the message, I immediately called the surgeon to see what the test results showed. I was told the surgeon had gone home and they couldn’t give me any more information over the phone. When I said I couldn’t wait until the next day to know if I was okay or not, the nurse found a Fellow who was able to talk with me. After demanding to know my results, I was told I had breast cancer in my right breast. I was diagnosed, at the age of 29, with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), stage 2A that was estrogen positive (ER+), progesterone positive (PR+) and HER2/neu-positive. Though I was living away from home, I had some amazing friends in the area. My wonderful friend Meghan, who I worked with, was the first person I told after I ran out of work and she found me crying in my car in the parking lot. She drove me home, where my incredible roommate, Willie, had opened a bottle of wine. Willie and Meghan sat with me as I began to make phone calls. My first call was to my parents.
Knowing I wanted to move ahead quickly with my treatment plans and that I had a good support system in place, I decided to have my surgery in Denver. I took a quick trip home to see my parents and friends in Missouri before heading back to Denver to have a lumpectomy. After surgery, I made another trip home for my cousin Patrick’s wedding. I used that time to visit the University of Missouri School of Law campus and talk with some of the professors and deans. They were all very concerned and didn’t think that I could handle the work load of the first year of law school and go through cancer treatment at the same time. In the back of my mind, I knew that I could do it. I also visited an oncologist to discuss possible treatment options in Kansas City.
After that weekend at home, I made my decision: I left my job and Denver. I enrolled in law school in Kansas City and moved back in with my parents. I was now going to be a full-time student, complete chemotherapy and do all of this while not working and on COBRA. My parents were wonderful. They were a full-time support system and believed I could complete my dream of becoming a lawyer. I was also fortunate because many of my old high school friends joined together and sponsored a fundraising event for me. Their combined efforts raised enough money to make sure I could pay for COBRA, keep my insurance and continue treatment. Breast cancer would not stop me from going back to school. At school, I was equally fortunate. I had started classes before chemo and had the opportunity to meet people and make friends before I looked or felt sick to the outside world. I made a core group of friends that turned into my support system at school. I was determined not to let cancer stop me from being a student. I never missed classes just because I didn’t feel well. I always pushed myself to go. When I did need to miss a class due to a treatment appointment, my teachers were extremely supportive and my school friends were generous with their notes and helped me catch up on lectures.
By the summer of 2011, my hair was beginning to grow back, and, after being single for a year, I decided it was time to take a chance on dating again. Being single during treatment was hard enough; it caused me to struggle with my self-image and question if someone would find me attractive. I had scars, I had a port and, to top it all off, I was now in menopause. It took time, but I realized I had to start loving myself again. In September of 2011, I bumped into my old high school friend, Jeff, at a Kansas City Chiefs game. We had reconnected a year before on Facebook. We started dating and just celebrated our one-year anniversary. He’s helped me look beyond my scars and realize that someone can love you after cancer.
I am graduating from law school in May 2013 and am excited to start the next phase of my life as a lawyer. I am still struggling with insurance and the financial burdens that come along with having a major illness at a young age. I am also continuously learning what it is like to live after cancer. But with love and the support of an amazing network of family and friends, I see the bright future that is waiting for me.