I had just stepped off my bike after a workout when I felt a pain in my left breast. When I ran my hand over the area that hurt, I was surprised to feel a squishy and moveable lump. I did regular breast self-exams, so this new lump seemed to have come out of nowhere. I was 35 years old and cancer was the furthest thing from my mind. I chalked it up to a hormone issue related to a medication I was taking, and decided to ask my OBGYN about it when I had a regular appointment with her about a week later.
That appointment is one I will never forget.
My doctor examined the lump and told me it was a benign fibroadenoma and & quote “not to worry.” She then gave me a new prescription and a referral for imaging. As I walked to the car, I weighed my options: make an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound – which would likely cost a significant amount of money because they wouldn’t be covered by insurance; or wait it out and hope that the pain and the lump were related to the medication and would go away on their own. I decided to call the number on the referral form. In that moment, all I could think about was a dear friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer the previous year at the age of 33. If it could happen to her, it could happen to me.
In retrospect, I’m glad I allowed myself to worry.
After two mammograms and an ultrasound, the doctor at the imaging center told me that the lump was cancer, and that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. In that moment, my life changed. Due to pandemic restrictions, I had gone to the appointment alone. I didn’t know what to do. When the doctor left the room to gather equipment for a biopsy, I said to myself, “Be brave.”
The next week was a whirlwind of appointments and information. I was fortunate to be connected with Pluta Cancer Center and an outstanding and compassionate medical team that helped me make sense of the chaos. I learned that I had Stage 2 ER+/PR+, HER2- invasive ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ. I did 16 rounds of chemotherapy, had a lumpectomy, and then did 25 rounds of radiation.
Through it all, I was surrounded by the love of family, friends, colleagues, and the wonderful staff at the Breast Cancer Coalition. I will be forever grateful to every single person who walked this path with me.
When I was first in touch with the Breast Cancer Coalition, one of the staff members who is also a survivor told me, “This is a club no one wants to be in, but it has the best members.” For me, a silver (or actually, gold!) lining of having had cancer is that I’ve met remarkable people. Some are mentors. Some are peers. All are friends. I’ve been able to lean on fellow survivors who understand all of the emotions that come with this process. I’ve been able to bond with members of the Young Survivors group. And I’ve been able to offer hope to individuals who are newly diagnosed through the PALS mentor program.
In my spare time, I teach and perform sketch comedy and improvisation. Before going on stage, my teammates and I always tell each other the same thing: “I’ve got your back.” I’m grateful that so many people had my back through my diagnosis and treatment. And now, I’m lucky enough to say to anyone who is part of this club: I’ve got your back.