In May 2018, I felt a large mass in my right breast while working out. Having a history of fibroadenomas (non-
cancerous tumors), I did not think much of it. A few weeks later I asked my primary to send me for an ultrasound. After seeing the look on the radiologist's face, I knew my life was about to change. After more testing, I was diagnosed with Stage 2b hormone positive breast cancer. I was 29.
Due to the size of my mass, my only option was a mastectomy. Wanting to reduce my risk of cancer in the left side, I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy. This was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Knowing I will never be able to breastfeed my children is something that still sits with me daily. After my surgery, my pathology showed a chance of reccurence, so I am currently going through four rounds of chemotherapy. Since we would like to have a family one day, my husband and I chose to freeze embryos since treatment may make me infertile. Between losing my breasts and the possibility of not being able to have children, there are times I have felt inadequate as a woman. However, fertility preservation helped me feel empowered by taking control in a situation where there is little opportunity to feel in control of your life.
Another way I have felt in control of this disease is through cold cap therapy, a scalp cooling system that you wear throughout chemotherapy infusions to prevent hair loss (think eight hour brain freeze). So far, I have had great success. I am three chemo treatments in and have barely lost any hair. When I found out I needed chemo, I did not think preventing hair loss was an option, and I found that my doctors and other women had never heard of cold cap therapy. I hope by bringing awareness, other women can feel more in control of the side effects of treatment as well.
I have one round of chemo, at least one reconstruction surgery, six weeks of radiation and ten years of hormone therapy still ahead of me. Cancer can be incredibly lonely. Once you hear your name and cancer together, you are different in a way that those close to you cannot fully comprehend. However, if you let people in to experience the pain with you, you'll see that you will never be alone. Cancer takes so much, but if you really look, you can see the gifts that it gives you as well. Hold on to these.
Cancer is a huge mental battle. You decide how you much power you want to give the disease. My best advice: Let yourself feel broken, but do not let it break you. Find power in your strength. It is still possible to experience joy in every day, you just have to be willing to look for it. I look forward to the day I am among the survivors of this disease, but until then I will keep smiling my way through the fight.