How did this happen to me? I’m 31.

The big black mass on the screen was staring me right in the face, as I lay there topless in the ultrasound room.  Minutes ago the ultrasound technician asked me if I had an implant, that’s how large the tumour was. This big black mass occupied the entire upper part of my DD breast, you can’t blame the technician for thinking it was an implant. How did I get here? How did I let this happen? 10 months earlier I noticed the lump in my breast, I went straight to the doctor.  At that time they said it was just dense breast tissue. They said I was fine. That this “dense tissue” would “go away” when I had kids. It didn’t go away, it turned into stage 3 lobular breast cancer.

How did this happen to me?  I’m 31. I’m young and healthy. I’m a vegetarian, I run, I don’t smoke. I thought breast cancer only happened to women over 50. Is that why my doctor never sent me for a mammogram? Because I was too young? Should I have asked for one? All these questions raced through my head, but this was just the beginning. Being 31 I could hear the sadness in people’s voices when I told them I had breast cancer. “I’m so sorry” they would say.

The most difficult thing being so young was finding my voice. I realized from the beginning, since I was so young, I was over-looked.

My doctor had assumed I was fine. After my first ultrasound no follow up visit was scheduled, no plan was put into place to monitor this lump in my breast.  Not only this, but my doctor gave me no guidance on what to look for, and what changes I should contact her with. I assumed everything was fine because my doctor told me I was. This lead to a 10 month delay in my cancer diagnosis. The only reason we finally did catch it was my persistent question “are you sure this lump is normal?”. When I walk into doctor appointments now I’m always told “you’re so organized”. I have to be now, I had to learn from this mistake. Before every appointment now I write down my questions, assume nothing and ask every question I damn well feel like asking. The hardest thing being so young with breast cancer was connecting with women my age.

I remember walking into a breast cancer support group in Windsor and being the youngest person by 20 years!

When I met my friend Lisa in a chemo education class I exchanged numbers with her immediately. She was the one that made me finally feel that I wasn’t alone, and that everything I was emotionally going through was normal. She too had breast cancer and whether we texted about what we were doing that weekend or that bitch of a chemo red devil, it was so great to talk to someone who could truly empathize.

If I could pass on any advice to someone just beginning their journey, is that you’re not alone.

Please find someone to connect with. No matter how strong you think you are, you need a cancer journey buddy. Someone who truly understands what you’re going through, and will know exactly what and what not to say. And finally, find your voice. You know your body better than anyone. If something doesn’t feel right, then ask questions and don’t stop asking till you get an answer.  Being my own advocate was what literally saved my life. –Mercedes

Rethink Breast Cancer’s Care Guidelines for Young Women with Breast Cancer exist because young women like Mercedes get breast cancer. This holiday, support a young woman in need and show you give a care by making a donation to our Give-A-Care line here.

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Guideline #1 For Young Women With Breast Cancer: Understanding Unique Needs
50 Carroll Street Toronto, Ontario Canada M4M 3G3
Phone: 416 220 0700
Registered Charity #: 892176116RR0001

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