When I first felt my lump in my breast in November of 2016 I immediately started googling what it could be, now usually google has me all kinds of worried about medical diagnosis but in this case I was feeling pretty good. Everything I read that night said the same thing, its a cyst, its a fibroadenoma, its anything but cancer. I read that there was only a 0.6% chance of getting breast cancer in your 20’s so I thought my chances were pretty good but boy was I wrong. The next day (because I’m a hypochondriac) I called my breast cancer doctor (I had been to her previously for a skin abnormality that I wanted to have biopsied) and they said she would be out of town the whole next week for Thanksgiving and that I could come the following week. I scheduled my appointment with her the following Thursday because I had clinicals for school Monday-Wednesday. I didn’t think much about it over Thanksgiving break, I think I knew it had gotten bigger but I was afraid I was just overreacting so I didn’t say anything to anyone. The next Monday at clinicals I was talking about it with some of the x-ray techs and one of them suggested I let the Ultrasound tech ultrasound it. I was skeptical because I didn’t want her to tell me it wasn’t a cyst and I have to go the rest of the week worrying but she eventually talked me into it. The ultrasound tech assured me that it would be fine it was probably just a cyst so I calmed down and let her scan my breast, I will never forget the look on her face when she said “I don’t want you to worry but it’s not a cyst.” I think I knew at that moment that it was cancer, I went to the bathroom and cried for a second and then went about my day. Thursday came and I went to my appointment where she did an ultrasound but I already knew what she was going to say, she told me to come for a biopsy the next day. The next day Michael brought me to her office and I had my biopsy and she told me she’d call me Monday with the results. Monday rolls around (of course this falls on finals week and I’m trying to study) and I get no call, Tuesday comes and I call them and they tell me that they still don’t have the results. On Wednesday afternoon I get a call and my heart stops, I answer it and hear my Doctors voice and I knew right then that it was for sure cancer because when it’s benign they can have someone from the office call and not the Doctor. She tells me its cancerous but not to worry too much and asked if I could come in today or tomorrow to get an MRI, I explain that I have a final the next morning and we schedule the MRI for the next day at noon. I immediately call my mom, dad, and boyfriend and tell them while trying to hold back tears because I don’t want them to know I’m terrified. I email my teachers and tell them and they told me not to worry about the final and to go do what I needed to do. The next day I went for my MRI, 30 minutes of complete stillness alone to think about all of this, when I initially did my research I read that usually the prognosis isn’t great for younger people with breast cancer because they usually find it late, so the whole time I was getting my MRI I was thinking “this is it, I’m going to die, it has probably already spread.” After the MRI we walked over to my breast cancer doctors office and met with her. Me, my mom, and my dad all sat in the room waiting for her and waiting to hear the results of the MRI. When she finally comes in she tells us that it hasn’t spread at all but that it is aggressive so we have to work fast, she tells me its stage 2 and that it has probably only been there for about 5 weeks, she told me that I basically saved my own life by getting it checked. She started to go into detail about my options but suggested that I do chemo first and a mastectomy second, I thought that was kind of odd, why not get this thing out of me immediately but she said they have done better lately with this method, she’s one of the best in Alabama so I trust her opinion. I started to cry a little when she said chemo, the thought of losing my hair was always the hardest part to me. She set me up with an oncologist and I went straight over to his office, me, mom, dad, my sister, and my boyfriend all went in one of his exam rooms and he brought in his nurse, his NP, and I think 2 other people, we talked about starting chemo and he told me everything would be fine and that we were gonna beat this no doubt. I had surgery the next day for my port to get placed and then had a PET scan scheduled for the following Monday. I went to the PET scan, the results came back good and I was all set to start chemo that Friday. Currently I am down to having 4 weekly chemo treatments left and then I will have my mastectomy.
Here’s what the past four months have taught me:
1. Your self confidence will decrease drastically.
I’ll be the first to say I’ve never been the most self confident person but going through chemo will make you feel things about yourself that you never thought possible. The first handful of hair that came out I just sat on Michael’s bed with my head on his chest and I just cried for about an hour, it was the first time that I really CRIED throughout this whole process, of course I’d cried a few times for about 5 minutes but I sucked it up and got on with my day, this time was different and until it happens to you (and hopefully it never does) you don’t understand the feeling of emptiness you feel. I gained 20 lbs., I’ve struggled with weight my entire life so this one was hard, from all the movies I thought that I would lose weight on chemo but the exact opposite happened, these IV bags of steroids every week are no joke. My eyebrows have thinned out but are still there and my last little eyelashes are hanging on for dear life. I have giant purple bags under my eyes and overall I just feel gross. Of course you can buy wigs and eyelashes and concealer but it’s not the same, I’m 23, I shouldn’t have to buy all of this to feel acceptable. Your 20’s are supposed to be the best years of your life but mine are a nightmare right now, I don’t want to go out in public because of the way I look, I don’t need people to stare at my bald head and I don’t want to run into people and get asked a million questions. Looks are, in my opinion, the hardest part about this whole experience.
2. You just feel like crap
You don’t know exhaustion until you’ve gone though chemo. From what all my healthcare professionals tell me, I’m doing great, but I constantly feel like crap. I try so hard to pretend like I’m not tired so that I don’t worry anyone but honestly every day I just feel ‘blah.’ I’m always tired or sore and I never want to do anything but lay in bed. On top of physically feeling bad, your mood is melancholy. Anything anyone asks me I just shrug my shoulders because I don’t want to do anything and most of the time I’m just too exhausted to even have a conversation.
3. Side effects that all the movies leave out
Did you ever think about your nose hairs falling out and your nose leaking all the time? How about bowel movements, I’m either constipated and getting the most painful hemorrhoids ever or having diarrhea. Your skin, mouth, eyes, nose, everything is dry and you’ll probably get some acne. Stuff gets in your eyes more because of the lack of eyelashes. My fingernails hurt so bad and feel like they’re going to fall off. Surprisingly, I haven’t thrown up once which is what I expected from all the movies, my nausea actually hasn’t been bad at all.
4. You have to start thinking about kids before you’re ready
I’ve always wanted kids, but I knew I didn’t want them right now and that I had time to think about it. All of a sudden there’s a chance I wont be able to have kids and that broke my heart. My doctor did tell me upfront that there was a good chance that my eggs would bounce back because I am so young but just the thought of not being able to have kids destroyed me. I don’t want to be having to think about IVF and surrogacy and adoption at 23. My first 8 weeks of chemo I was still having a period which I was happy about but when I stopped having them was when I really started to worry because that meant everything wasn’t working properly. Your doctor might allow you to freeze your eggs but for me I really didn’t have time to do that before I started chemo.
5. You have to get your boobs cut off
I haven’t had my surgery yet so I can’t really speak on this much. Getting my breasts taken away hasn’t really hit me yet because I have so much other stuff to worry about. I do worry about the actual surgery, of course, and I worry how people that don’t know my situation will react when they see fake boobs on me. I have thought about not being able to breastfeed my kids (if I have any) and that kind of hurts me but there are millions of women who can’t breastfeed so I don’t want to worry about that too much. Overall this part hasn’t been too bad for me personally because at this point I just want them off because they tried to kill me.
6. You will find out who your friends are
Your real friends will be there every step of the way. They will understand that you can’t hangout as much as you did before, they will text or call you every day to see how you’re feeling or ask how your blood counts are, if you’re lucky like me they’ll shave their head so you don’t feel alone. They will be there for you the entire time, from you finding out to you having your surgery and everything in between.
7. Your parents will want to help you
I haven’t lived with my parents in 3 years so this was weird for me. Me and my dad probably talked once a week and now he texts me everyday and tries to see me as much as he can. I could’ve gone to all of the appointments by myself, I can drive myself, I can do everything myself but I know my parents want to be there, I’m their baby and this is scary for them too. The truth is this might be harder on your parents than it is on you, no one wants to see their child suffer, so let them help, let them baby you, talk to them often. You never think anything is going to happen to your child so when you’re faced with a near death experience things change. You think you have all the time in the world with your child and when something happens where you think you won’t, you’ll want to do everything to spend every moment with them.
8. You’ll realize how little some things matter
When you find out you have cancer you gain a sudden maturity that you didn’t have before. Things that you let bother you before no longer bother you because you’re alive and that’s all that matters now. You suddenly don’t have the same priorities as your friends. You’re twenties are usually your reckless years but you don’t have time for all that because you’re only focus is surviving.
9. You will be a sob story
People don’t get breast cancer in their 20’s! Every doctor, NP, RN will remind you how young you are. Everyone at chemo will look at you sadly because you’re sure to be the youngest one there. Randoms will stop you and tell you how sorry they are that you’re going through this. A million people will comment on your posts about how shocked they are that you’re going through this. People will ask you questions, how you found it, why did you get it, does it run in your family; You will have to tell your story at least once a day. At some low points through your journey you’ll even think this way, you’ll wonder why this is happening to you and say it’s not fair. Just the other day it was my 24th birthday and at the end of the day I just hugged Michael and he asked what was wrong and I said “it’s just not fair, I just want to be able to have fun on my birthday.” I felt bad for myself for probably the first time and I think that’s okay every once and while.
10. You’ll feel closed off from the world
A lot of this was by choice for me, I didn’t want to go outside my house and I knew I shouldn’t be around people. Its more that you miss being able to do whatever you want, you miss going out with your friends or going shopping. You want to go on a date with your S.O. but you can’t because your blood counts are low that week. In the beginning your family will treat you like an invalid and you’ll feel like one too. On top of this you’re even isolated from the cancer world, everyone around you that has cancer is 40+ so your lives are so different. Every book or post you read is not about someone your age, you feel like no one knows what you’re going through. You just have to keep in your mind that it will be over soon and you will have a normal life again someday.