“You’re too young for this” is what the doctor said to me when I asked for a mammogram after finding a lump in my left breast around Thanksgiving of 2020. I agree. I was too young to lose my breasts. But it happened and unfortunately my story isn’t unique. According to the National Cancer Institute approximately 12,000 women under the age of 40 are diagnosed each year.
I pushed back and asked for a mammogram again. When the report came back all they could tell me was I had dense breasts. Dense breasts make it difficult to see anything because they appear as bright white spots on x-rays. Last week the FDA set a national guideline requiring mammography facilities to notify patients with dense breasts what it means and that they may be at an increased risk for breast cancer.
Still, I was told because I was young and had no history of breast cancer in my family, it was “probably nothing”. Four weeks later the tumor had almost doubled in size. This time I returned for another mammogram and they scheduled a biopsy.
That’s when everything changed. After a lumpectomy, the “nothing” I had been reassured of was actually a stage 2B phyllode malignancy. They advised a mastectomy and radiation. I thought it was a mistake. I don’t think a breast cancer diagnosis is harder for young women, it can be daunting at any age. What is different is because you are young, it’s so unexpected. Young women aren’t screened and therefore tumors can be more advanced and aggressive by the time they are found.
I didn’t think breast cancer could affect me. I thought it was something to worry about in your 50s or 60s. Overnight I was hit with a wave of questions, worry, and fear. As an American there was the added stress of dealing with insurance coverage issues.
Because I had already had a lumpectomy in March 2021, my mastectomy could wait a couple of months. This allowed me time to research different options, seek other opinions, and manage the insurance coverage side. I finally had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction in August 2021. I speak candidly about my story not to scare young women, but to encourage them to use their voice. Don’t be afraid to push back. You know your body better than anyone else. You are your best advocate. We are too young for this, but here we are. And you aren’t alone.