The next story I want to share with you is my friend Nikki's. I love this woman like she's my sister. I would seriously cut a bitch for this woman, and I know she'd do the same. Nikki is a photographer hobbyist and she used art therapy to help her through treatment. Please see her blog Dolls In Dystopia to see the amazing art she has created.
Age and diagnosis
I was 36 years old and diagnosed with stage 2, Her 2+ IDC. It was very aggressive, rating an 8 on the Nottingham scale (the scale of aggression that measures from 0 to 9). Both of my tumors were grade 3 at the time of my radical mastectomy in October 2010.
Family history or BRCA mutation?
I did not test positive for any of the known gene mutations, but there is a family history (that I didn't even know about until after my diagnosis.) My grandmother and all but one of her sisters have each had a granddaughter diagnosed with breast cancer at about my age. The good news is that each of my cousins are 20+ year survivors - so while we may have some sort of genetic predisposition to breast cancer, we seem to also be predisposed to kicking its ass. *Knock on wood.*
Who caught it?
I found it. I had just gone to the funeral of a young woman who passed away from breast cancer at age 32. The funeral was out of state and a dear friend asked me to make the drive with her because she was still nursing her baby boy and needed to take plenty of nursing breaks on the drive down. The funeral had a huge impact on me and I am now close to the mother of this young woman I never knew. She was clearly loved by so many people and left behind 2 beautiful children. I credit her every day with helping me find the tumors in my own body. I wasn't doing regular SBE's and the day I found the breast cancer, I was doing it because of Kim - a young woman I never met, but who I feel saved my life.
What were the signs?
In retrospect, probably more than I realized. So many other young women I know talk about having gotten really sick shortly before diagnosis. And it is no different for me. I became gravely ill in late July of 2010 and had a lingering cough that I couldn't shake even after my diagnosis. Most of this was attributed to living in an apartment with black mold (which I promptly moved out of) but I find it interesting that so many other young women note the onset of a strange illness shortly before diagnosis. Other than that, the main signs were the two lumps I could feel - the primary tumor that was underneath the nipple of my left breast, and the lymph node which was on the side of my left chest near my underarm.
Did your doctors listen to you?
Absolutely. I had a history with breast biopsies of my right breast due to dense, fibro-cystic tissue. My nurse practitioner could feel the tumor but barely - and she could not feel the lymph node at all. She did arrange for me to have a mammogram and an ultrasound though to be sure even though she thought it was probably a cyst. Nothing showed up on the mammogram, but both tumors were clearly visible on the ultrasound. I walked out of the doctor's office that day knowing I had breast cancer even though no one could formally diagnosis me until after the biopsy results came back two days later.
What would you say to a young woman who thinks she might have something wrong?
NEVER ignore your body. If something seems wrong or you feel something that you don't remember being there before, have it checked. And be insistent. You have to be your own advocate when it comes to your health. As a young person, doctor's often miss our cancers because they assume it is something else. I was told by one doctor "Cancer is a disease of the elderly." Well, I wish someone had told my breast cancer that. The truth is body awareness is key for many reasons - not just cancer. So many illnesses can be treated effectively - but that often hinges on early diagnosis. I recently had major kidney surgery to correct a birth defect in one of my kidneys. This was an issue I knew existed and I also knew may have to be addressed at some point. But I suddenly began having discomfort while urinating a few months ago that sent me to the doctor. It was totally unrelated, but it led my kidney doctor to the realization that my left kidney was almost fully obstructed and I needed the surgery urgently in order to not damage my kidneys beyond repair. I had the surgery three weeks ago and am now on the road to full recovery. We never figured out why I had the painful urination. But I know it was my body talking to me. If you listen, I think you'll be surprised at what your body is willing to say to you.