Name: Lisa Smith
Occupation: Program/Portfolio Manager
Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 34
Breast cancer type: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma – Triple Negative
Breast cancer stage: 1
Treatment: Neoadjuvant chemo (AC for 12 weeks, TC for 12 weeks); bilateral skin-sparing, nipple-sparing mastectomy with 5 sentinel node dissection; immunotherapy (Keytruda) for 9 treatments post surgery
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer:
My job sent me to live in Singapore for just over a year. If I could, I would move to Singapore in a heartbeat! It is the most welcoming, beautiful, and clean country I have ever been to.
What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?
Little Victories by Matt Nathanson
How did you discover your breast cancer?
I have a family history of breast cancer (maternal side) and I always had a gut feeling that I would have cancer sometime in my life. In 2008 I had a lumpectomy of a benign fibroadenoma. My surgeon said I had “busy breasts” and that I should continue to see her yearly (even though insurance didn’t cover it). I did and then when I turned thirty we switched it to every 6 months. February 2020 nothing was found via mammogram or ultrasound, but in July 2020 something suspicion “popped up” and we biopsied it immediately, proving to be cancer. My “busy breast” made it impossible for me to determine what was normal or not. I thank my intuition daily for being so proactive, otherwise it could have spread and been much harder to treat.
What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?
Of course I was devastated. My world crashed, but in the hours after there was an element of calm that I did everything I could to prevent this and it was caught early. I was lucky enough to listen to my intuition and see my breast specialist as frequently as I did.
What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?
At the doors of the hospital, during the Covid screenings, a non-oncology patient complimented my hair. I said “thank you, it’s a wig” with a huge smile. She looked at me with such seriousness and asked why I would want to wear THAT all day. I am not sure the intention of her question, but I just walked directly into oncology without even acknowledging the rudeness.
Who or what is/was your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?
My boyfriend. He is my biggest supporter. I moved in with him once I got diagnosed. He has been my shoulder to cry on, my meal maker, my water monitor, he loved me when I couldn’t love myself, and he was the one person who can keep my honest about how I feel and what I am going through.
What is/was the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?
The misconception to outsiders that after my surgery I was done with cancer. But I am far from done. Tactically, I am in the middle of reconstruction and have additional reconstruction surgeries and immunotherapy treatments remaining. But mentally and emotionally, I just started the journey. For me, the fear of recurrence is very high given my diagnosis and that I am young (longer duration of possible recurrence). That fear holds me in a place of “it’s not that I don’t have cancer, it’s that I don’t have cancer now”.
What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer?
That I am actually an emotional person! It’s ok to cry and be vulnerable.
In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
You are not alone; there are so many women out there feeling the same way, waiting to help you out.
If you or someone you know is a young woman with breast cancer looking for a community that relates and connects with your struggle, the Rethink Young Women’s Network might be right for you. For more information, click here.