Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 26 (two weeks before my 27th birthday, happy birthday to me!)
Breast cancer type: ER+ PR- HER2+ Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
Breast cancer stage: Stage 4 (Oligometastatic with two metastases to the sternum)
Treatment: Aggressive treatment with curative intent. Eight rounds of chemotherapy, partial mastectomy and axillary lymph node dissection, 25 rounds of radiation to chest and sternum, targeted therapy (Herceptin & Perjeta) every three weeks, daily Tamoxifen pill, monthly Lupron injections.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer
My guilty pleasure is watching reality shows like Big Brother and Survivor. I’ve been watching them for years and I listen to podcasts about them and everything! During chemo, I finally caved and got hooked on The Bachelor too.
What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?
Right now “Juice” by Lizzo, or “Mother’s Daughter” by Miley Cyrus.
How did you discover your breast cancer?
I had pain in my left breast. My doctor told me that I had cystic breasts and that I should stop drinking coffee to prevent cysts from forming. I did quit coffee and the pain coincidentally went away. Then, almost a year later, when I found a lump I assumed it was just a cyst as I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. My small lump suddenly grew really quickly to about the size of a grape. After a very long ultrasound and mammogram, I was told right then and there that it was likely cancer.
What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?
It felt like the whole room had turned upside down and I was suddenly outside of my body. I was alone and not expecting to hear the word “cancer”. I burst into tears of panic and confusion. I just kept thinking, “This can’t be right. There must be some mistake”. When I later found out that the cancer had actually spread to my sternum (making me Stage 4) all I could think was, “I’m going to die” (even despite my good prognosis). I couldn’t even cry, I was totally shell shocked.
What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?
Someone once asked me how my vacation was going. I know it was meant in a joking way, but let’s just say that on that day the joke didn’t land.
Who is your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?
My family and friends have all been incredibly supportive. I moved across Canada one year before my diagnosis, so I didn’t have a huge support network in my new city but my family and friends all made sure to come visit me back to back so that I was never alone for too long (I was basically running an Airbnb!).My partner Carlos has also been by my side since Day 1, and has kept me going through all my darkest times. Mindfulness and meditation have also played a huge role in my recovery. The book “Full Catastrophe Living” by John Kabat-Zinn was my bible when I was first diagnosed. It’s all about the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, an evidence-based mindfulness program that helps you cope with stress, pain, and illness. I also got the opportunity to participate in the MBSR course offered at my hospital and it was life changing for me. I highly recommend others to seek out an MBSR class in your area or to read anything by John Kabat-Zinn!
What is the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?
Not having any guarantees for the future, both in terms of the cancer returning and in terms of being able to have children someday. It’s also really hard to not compare yourself to others (especially when all your friends are travelling, getting married, or planning to have children, and you’re just sending them pictures of how many millimeters of hair you’ve grown).
What’s something unexpected you learned as a result of having breast cancer?
It sounds so cliché, but I had no idea how strong I was. On paper, I thought I was the worst possible person to get diagnosed with cancer (needle phobia… check, anxiety disorder… check, control freak… check), and yet here I am! I honestly feel like I could do almost anything after all of this. I’ve also completely shifted in terms of how I cope with stress. Little things just don’t get to me the way they used to. And when I do get stressed out or upset, I’ve learned to become more aware of it in the moment, which makes it easier to let go and move on.
In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
Take everything one day at a time… so much beauty, love, and strength will be waiting for you in the days to come.
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.