I was 24 years old, and in May 2010 I went in for my routine physical. I had noticed a lump in my left breast when I was doing a random self-exam. So I had a doctor check it out, and she immediately had me in for an ultrasound that day. After that, they scheduled me for a meeting with the surgeon, who said he thought it was just some fatty, fibrous tissue that should be removed.

The day after I had my lumpectomy, they called back and said it was cancer. They had four pathologists look at the tissue and they all confirmed that, yes, it was cancer. We were all very surprised to find that out. I have no family history. I was healthy, and so it was just very surprising and heartbreaking.

My husband rushed right home from work when he got the phone call. He stayed on the phone with me until he got home. He definitely took it hard. You don’t expect that to happen to your loved one in the first couple years of marriage.

We just sat there and cried. There was really nothing else we could do. But I didn’t want to sit and cry all day the rest of my life. I eventually took a step back and said, “You know what? This happened to me for a reason. I’m not sure what that reason is, but we’re going to get through it.”

I went in and met with the surgeon. About a week later I had a mastectomy. I originally went in thinking I would just have another lumpectomy and be done with it. The surgeon said he wouldn’t feel comfortable just doing that and strongly suggested I get a mastectomy. I toyed with the idea of getting a bilateral, but being my age, I still wanted [the option to nurse my] kids later on in life, so I opted to keep my right breast and just have the left mastectomy. That was August 2010.

I started treatment in September of 2010. I had 16 rounds of chemotherapy. Treatment had its rough spots. Every two weeks I went in and I had Adriamycin and Cytoxan, which they call the “Red Devil.” It’s a really nasty one…makes you lose all your hair…makes you really sick… My appetite was zero.

I was also going to my last year of physical therapy school at the time. I was able to finish my class work and clinicals all while going through treatment. It wasn’t the easiest thing, but I did it, and I feel like I’m a stronger person for it.

Everyone at school was really supportive. I was on a break in between semesters from grad school when I had my mastectomy. When I showed up to class on the first day of the fall semester, everybody was wearing pink.

I’ve since had reconstruction. I’m pleased with the results. It’s kind of a new normal. I feel like I’m getting back to normal, with my hair growing back. I don’t look like a cancer patient anymore. I don’t feel like a cancer patient anymore.

Just knowing that I’m alive, that I’m here for a reason, allows me to get through each day. I may not know my reason yet, but if it’s to get the word out and be an advocate for other young women to do self-breast exams, I guess it was meant to be. I think that’s the most important prevention. That’s how I found mine. Had I discovered the lump in my breast any later, things could have gone a lot differently.

Having breast cancer has definitely changed me. Obviously I wish I’d never gotten breast cancer, but I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not. Things would be different. I wouldn’t know half the people that I do. My relationships, I think, are stronger now because I don’t take what I have for granted.

My wish for the future is that they would find a cure for breast cancer so that my kids and my children’s children, and my great-grandchildren, all on down the road, will not have to endure this.

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