Occupation: Surgery resident (yes, like Meredith Grey)
Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 24
Breast cancer type: Triple Negative Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Breast cancer stage: 4
Treatment: Chemo (Taxol + AC + experimental immunotherapy), modified radical mastectomy without reconstruction, radiation
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer
While on an international rotation in South Africa I decided on a whim to fly to Cape Town and go shark cage diving in the FREEZING cold water. That’s when I realized that sharks are my soul creature.
What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?
The entirety of Lizzo’s album “Cuz I love you”. Fun fact: I had tickets to see Lizzo at the Houston Rodeo until it got cancelled due to COVID. Because no one can have nice things in 2020.
How did you discover your breast cancer?
I actually fell while hiking and had some trauma to my breast. It got better but started to look like it was coming back a few months later. I brought this up to a mentor of mine (ironically enough this was happening while I was assisting her with a mastectomy on a young lady). After the surgery she called her friend who was a radiologist and had me go in the next day for imaging right after I was on call for 24 hours. I was still in scrubs and I fell asleep in the waiting room. The pictures were puzzling and I ended up getting a biopsy. A week later she called me on the phone to tell me that it was cancer.
What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?
“How am I going to tell my parents? What if my mom cries? Am I going to have to quit residency? OMG I’m going to need chemo. And surgery. What if I get lymphedema and I can’t use my arms…”
What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?
Well-meaning male colleague: “You know, if I had to have any kind of cancer, I would want it to be breast cancer”.
Who has been your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?
My sister. She found out I had cancer during her last finals week of undergrad. She dropped everything, gave up a job after graduating, and moved to Houston with me. She never complained, she listened to me lament about my hair for hours, and she brought me dinner and then another dinner and then another until we found something I could tolerate eating.
What is the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?
Feeling like time is standing still and watching life go on for the people around me. Your 20’s are often a time when you’re growing and moving forward at an accelerated pace in the realms of education and career. I watched my friends accomplish so much and I thought “that should be me, I should be growing and flourishing”. I felt like I was failing myself somehow and I beat myself up about it all the time. What I didn’t realize was that I was growing in a different way.
What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer?
I always admired other people for their ability to own their new looks after treatment. I didn’t think I was capable of doing that. I thought I would hide under a rock after treatment until my hair grew back and I could get reconstructive surgery. I couldn’t imagine being me without my trademark “bossy ponytail”. I now realize that it’s the “bossy ponytail” on the inside that counts. The “bossy ponytail” had nothing to do with my hair and everything to do with my confidence in myself and my ability to stand in my own power. I’m now starting to own my new appearance as a reflection of the person that I’ve always been and will continue to be.
What words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
It takes a strong person to do things all on their own, but it takes a much stronger person to ask for help and allow themselves to accept it. Find the strength to let love in.