At only 30 years old, it’s hard to believe Elizabeth Callies is already a breast cancer survivor.

When she thinks back to her diagnosis two years ago, she shakes her head and says, “I’m proof that breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. I breast fed, I worked out almost every day. I was young! I was doing all the right things.”

Yet, at only 28, she found herself in the doctor’s office having a suspicious lump examined. Although it would take days before testing provided a definitive answer, when Elizabeth pressed her doctor, he conceded that it didn’t look good.

Eventually, she learned the diagnosis was grade 3 ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, which is an early stage of breast cancer that is growing quickly. And with that, she commenced a year-long journey that included a double mastectomy and reconstruction.

Because of her young age, Elizabeth says a part of her felt alone through it all. “I would go to gatherings of other survivors, and the majority of women were older. I just felt out of place, even though we were all there for the same thing. I just kept thinking I’m so young, I don’t belong.”

Although she didn’t know anyone her own age who could understand exactly what she was going through, Elizabeth treasured the support she received from her family. It was difficult to tell her two young girls about what she was going through.

“I had to explain why I couldn’t pick them up or hold them the same way I used to. So I told them I had breast cancer, but I didn’t tell them what that meant. I just said ‘Mommy has breast cancer right now, and she’s getting surgeries to get it fixed.’”

Some people told her it was important to prepare them for the “what ifs” of her disease. She didn’t do that, though.

“They were so young, and I wasn’t going to sit down and tell them things that might not happen. It’s everyone’s personal choice, and I know that some people thought I should talk to them, and others agreed with the approach I was taking.”

One of the moms at her daughter’s school went out of her way to introduce herself when she heard what Elizabeth was going through. She was a breast cancer survivor who had recently been in the same shoes, and quickly became a confidant, helping Elizabeth navigate the experience.

“I’d never met her until then,” says Elizabeth, “but I was so blessed that she came into my life. She answered those questions that you can’t find answers to online, that only another woman who’s been there will be able to answer.”

Her new friend gave her a journal and suggested that she just jot some things down once in awhile during the journey. “She really recommended it, and said that she was able to look back through her journal when I asked her questions.”

“I would never ever have thought of doing that, but I am so grateful that I did. Because I do want to pay it forward. And I do want to be there for somebody else. Especially for someone young, like I am.”

Today, Elizabeth is beyond the breast cancer. Now, she says, her attention has shifted to protecting the health of her two young daughters by enforcing smart lifestyle habits and a cleaner diet with more whole and organic foods. “I just don’t want them to have to go through this.”

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