I’m a young woman in my 20s. Why did I get breast cancer?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October. I was 23 years old.

My first question was: Why? I thought people my age didn’t get breast cancer. I have no family history of the disease. My tests for BRCA gene mutations, which increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, came back negative.

Did I eat too much sugar? Have I been exposed to too much plastic? People are quick to tell me their own theories, like being on birth control or putting my phone in my bra. Everyone around me is trying to understand how this could happen to someone my age. Because if it can happen to me, it can happen to them too.

When my family and I asked the doctor, she said it was just bad luck. Life is random. It’s possible that I didn’t do anything or could have done. But that doesn’t make the situation any less disturbing for me and for other young adults who increasingly find themselves in this situation.

In 2022, only 4% of invasive breast cancer diagnoses were in American women under 40 years old. But recent studies show that more young people are getting cancer, including breast cancer.

For young patients like me, it is difficult to understand the randomness of it all.

Find a Lump, Then Diagnose

It was June 2023 when I first noticed a large lump in my chest while taking a shower. I dismissed it at first, but when it didn’t go away, I told my GP that I was concerned. She ordered an ultrasound, but I had to wait three months to get an appointment in Washington.

I had heard that benign cysts were common in young women, but immediately after the ultrasound I had to have a biopsy. Imaging had shown an abnormal mass that required further testing. Worried, I asked my mother to leave Phoenix to be with me.

When I entered the exam room on a Tuesday, I saw my papers. “Pre-diagnosis: cancer,” he says.

A few days later, my doctor called me with the initial diagnosis: high-grade invasive ductal carcinoma, a cancer that grows quickly and is more likely to spread. The mass measured approximately five centimeters. This was step 2.

The long delay between discovery of a mass, ultrasound and diagnosis is just one reason why young cancer patients are often not taken seriously. I’ve heard of women whose doctors refused to have a mammogram because they were considered too young. Patients with colon cancer are sometimes diagnosed with hemorrhoids rather than cancer.

Making decisions about fertility

I decided to move to Arizona to be with my family for treatment. At my new hospital, I learned more about my diagnosis, such as that I had triple-positive breast cancer, which responded well to chemotherapy and targeted treatments. I also learned that I could use a technology called cold-capping to potentially save my hair.

I felt the most pressure about my decision not to retrieve my eggs, as my treatment impacts my fertility. I knew right away that this wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to undergo more intrusive medical procedures and having biological children was never important to me. My doctors and family wanted me to fully understand the weight of my decision, giving me multiple chances to change my mind, but I didn’t.

I also decided to try to save my hair. The treatment requires a special gel cap worn firmly on the head – like a bathing cap – before, during and after a chemotherapy session. Many people warned me that the cold cap would be painful, but once I got past the first 10 minutes, I didn’t find it that bad. It was like walking without a hat in the snow. It wasn’t practical during chemotherapy sessions, but it was worth it to maintain some sense of normalcy. I lost the most hair after my last treatment, but my doctors always compliment me on how much I managed to keep.

Finding comfort in the “still alive” club

I am grateful to attend a hospital that has a young adult program for patients like me. When I had a procedure to implant a port in my chest to facilitate chemotherapy infusions, a young adult specialist nurse saw that I was upset. She guided me through the empty chemo ward so I knew what to expect before my first treatment.

After receiving my comprehensive treatment plan, she also introduced me to a support group. We meet once a month to get together. Some people are recently diagnosed, like me, or have a new diagnosis, and others have reached their five-year remission goal. When I joined the group, I felt less alone. I knew they were all where I was.

In group meetings, we share frustrating stories – like collapsed veins and having a central line inserted – or encouraging stories of friendly doctors and early hospital discharges. We talk about playing Pokémon and The Sims for fun. We follow each other on Instagram.

We try to keep it light, laughing as we color the Thanksgiving turkeys on the table, decorate gingerbread houses, or make vision boards. The group jokes about being part of the “still alive” club and how it’s never “cancer free” but “cancer calm” – a way of saying that our lives are never will never be completely free of cancer, while we face continuous examinations. and persistent symptoms. But we can live our lives relatively peacefully in the face of cancer.

We all experience unique struggles that remind us how unfair our situations are. We were the “unlucky ones”. But instead of asking “Why me?” we sympathize that it’s us. There is a common understanding that none of us want or should be there, but here we are.

My journey is not over, even though I have undergone six rounds of chemotherapy and surgery. I’m afraid of a recurrence. I wonder where I’ll end up at the end of this, furloughed from my job and removed from my life in Washington. I worry for my friends with cancer as they fight their own battles, and for other young people trying to understand why. it happened to them.

I remember the time I went for my first MRI. The test would help determine if the cancer has spread elsewhere. The woman at the front desk asked me for my date of birth to print my bracelet.

“We have the same birthday,” she said. Month, date, year, everything.

I laughed about it at first, but that moment stayed with me. We were on the other side of the counter.

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News Source :
Gn Health

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