My Breast Cancer Scare at 26

I discovered my first lump 2 months ago, with a history of breast cancer in my family, the disease was not outside the realm of possibility, but still, it seemed like more of an imaginary idea I saw as potentially having to think about when I got much older. I have an aunt who died of cancer very young, as well as another aunt that recently passed away from breast cancer. I didn’t even check my breasts regularly and certainly didn’t expect to get tested at the young age of 26.

On my first visit, my doctor suggested I wait one menstrual cycle before having the lump checked by a specialist to make sure it wasn’t hormonal. “It’s very normal for women to have lumpy breast at your age” she assured me.

My breast check was quite routine, except that a month later the lump was still there. They asked me to visit the hospital for an ultrasound. Walking into the room, I was greeted by a doctor clearly well practised in reassuring smiles.

My visit was like those movies when you feel someone is about to get very bad news. The radiologist examined the screen silently then advised that I should get a biopsy. He indicated the areas of concern. I was trying desperately to concentrate on his words but picked up just a fraction of his sentences: 'it’s not a cyst', 'probably nothing', 'recommend a biopsy', 'we will do it today'.

I'm not going to pretend a biopsy is in any way a pleasant procedure because it isn't. They made a small incision and used a gun like contraption to get hold of two samples. “it’s pretty deep” he mentioned whilst trying to make conversation. The biopsy took 10 minutes at most, although it felt like forever, and I was told that the results would be ready in 3 days. 3 men touched and examined my breast that day.

The wait

For three very long days, I was sure that it would all be fine, but a small part of me felt that perhaps the long life I assumed I would live could be cut short. Reminders of your own mortality will do that to you. You ask a lot of questions like is it my fault? Could I have done something differently? Do I want children? What if I actually do have cancer? Have I done everything I set out to do in life? Dating is hard already, will cancer make it harder?

The wait for a diagnosis is hard enough. But as every working girl knows, your responsibilities at work doesn’t stop just because your mind is overcome with worry. In the free moments, I had at lunch, I went through my options. Best-case scenario it would be fibroadenoma, which is a benign lump which I could get removed. Worst case, I had cancer and would need surgery at the very least, but I have life insurance.  

Diagnosis

I opted for a phone call to receive my results. I must say waiting for the call that day was frightening to say the least. My closest friends checked in on me and sent lovely messages of support.

When I finally got the call, I breathed the biggest sigh of relief and suddenly had a new-found love for the life I’m living.

The amount of research and stories I read over the past couple of weeks will likely keep me on the straight and narrow from now on. Around 5,600 women aged under 45 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Often these women have been told not to worry about the lump in their breast because they’re 'too young to get breast cancer'.

Whilst breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are difficult for women of any age, prognosis tends to be worse in under 40s. Breast cancers in young women are more likely to be more aggressive, higher grade, hormone receptor-negative and more likely to require chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can damage the ovaries, and can cause irregular periods or stop periods altogether.

We all grasp that in a way we're very small and fragile. But even as we age, death still seems somehow remote, it's that distance that helps us cope with the idea of dying.

Please know that it's not too late to get something checked out, if you find something suspicious, something is detected, it's better to find it sooner rather than later.

This post isn’t entirely about my breast cancer scare. It was a blessing in disguise to remind me that I need to show up in my own life. And you need to show up in yours. Sometimes that requires courage, the courage to undergo a breast exam.