Next up is @zapladybug's story.
Age and Diagnosis
Age 38, invasive ductal carcinoma - stage 2b with one positive lymph node.
Family history or BRAC?
My father had prostate cancer and my aunt (his sister) was diagnosed with Stage 0 in SITU breast cancer two years after I was diagnosed. Other than that, we have no family history with cancer - women's or otherwise.
My BRAC test came back negative, for what that's worth.
Who caught it?
I found a lump in my breast seven years before diagnosis. I immediately saw my doctor. He thought it was a cyst based on how it felt and told me to come back after my next menstrual cycle. I did and at that point, it was a lot smaller, so he confirmed it was a cyst. He told me not to worry about it because there is "no connection" between cysts and breast cancer and to stop drinking caffeine. (Ironically, I was getting most of my caffeine from green tea.) Over the years, I felt less concerned because my doctors weren't and from what they told me, it fit the profile of a cyst.
After seven years the lump felt different - it was more solid and it didn't change depending on my menstrual cycle. I put off going to the doctor for a couple of months because I thought it was still a cyst, but two months later I started to feel pain in my breast. That's when I went to the doctor and learned I had breast cancer.
Coincidentally, within a week or two of my diagnosis, I heard that researchers found there "may actually be" a link between breast cysts and breast cancer.
What were the signs?
Solid lump and pain. I think the pain aspect is really important because I was repeatedly told that "breast cancer doesn't hurt," and since diagnosis, I have met countless women who experienced pain before diagnosis. I think this makes sense - the tumor was pushing tissue, ducts, etc., out of the way - why wouldn't it hurt?
Did your doctors listen to you?
At the time of diagnosis? Yes and no. My general practitioner tried to get me an appointment with a breast surgeon the same day she felt the tumor. (I went in the next day.) I am African American, but mixed race so people often think I'm Caucasian. I told the breast surgeon that I'm Afrian American, but she asked me repeatedly if I was certain that I didn't have an Ashkenazi Jewish background. My husband and I were flustered that she asked me that question so often. Many young women get breast cancer - not just Ashkenazi Jewish women.
After I began treatment my medical onologiist didn't listen to me about Herceptin and Tamoxifen side effects. AFter three visits, my husband took the day off from work to tell my doctor the same exact things I repeatedly told him. He then took it seriously.
What would you say to a young woman who might have something wrong?
Advocate for yourself. If you notice any changes at all - and if you're diagnosed with a cyst - insist on regular mammograms and perform regular self-exams. Don't assume that everything's fine just because you're young or your doctors say it's just a cyst and you have nothing to worry about. Although statistically speaking you have a very small chance of developing breast cancer, it happens.
If you are a young woman with breast cancer, know that you are not alone. Young Survival Coalition is a fantastic resource for young breast cancer patients and survivors. Also, be sure to look into ways you can minimize the risk of developing lymphedema and, if you do develop it, go see your doctor immediately. My doctors told me not to worry about it, but it's the one side effect of breast cancer treatment that impacts my life every minute of every day.