Breast Cancer Isn’t an “Older Woman’s” Disease

The following post was written by Liz, a CollegeCandy reader and 21-year-old breast cancer survivor.

I was your typical college sophomore. I was active on campus, had a great group of friends, and kept myself busy with schoolwork. I was enjoying my time at The College of New Jersey, and felt truly blessed with an amazing life.

Then in April 2009, everything changed completely. In the midst of studying for final exams and celebrating the end of the school year, I was going back and forth between TCNJ and New York City for doctor visits. I had found a lump in my right breast, and went for tests and exams just as a precaution. Although I was optimistic and really believed I had nothing to worry about, I received the news that nobody wants to hear: I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

How could this have happened? I was only nineteen years old, with no family history of the disease, and was a healthy athlete my entire life. Weeks earlier, my toughest decisions dealt with my college course load, finding a summer job, and balancing family and friends. Flash forward and I’m being told I need surgery, months of chemotherapy, and I will have to start my junior year of college wearing a wig. I began making life-changing decisions and dealing with things no teenager should ever have to deal with.

In May of 2009 I elected to have a bilateral mastectomy, which called for the removal of both my right and left breasts. Though the cancer was only located in a tumor in my right breast, I chose to be as aggressive as possible with the surgery. I was diagnosed with this disease at age nineteen; what would stop it from coming back again in my other breast? I did not want to have to relive any of these moments, so I made one of the hardest and most important decisions of my life.

After about a month of recovery from my surgery, I began my chemotherapy treatments and the breast reconstruction process. I needed eight cycles of two different chemotherapy drugs; the entire process would last four months. In hindsight, four months is such a small, insignificant period of time. But those were the hardest four months of my life.

When I started chemotherapy, I kept asking myself, “Why did this happen to me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” I even wondered whether I would be able to get through the whole process. I relied heavily on the strength of my family and friends just to keep me going day by day.

In the days that followed, I realized “Why me” questions were pretty silly and somewhat selfish.  There was nothing I could do to prevent what already happened and focusing on my past would do nothing to improve my future.  The questions I needed to ask suddenly came into focus:  “What do I need to do to put this behind me?” “How do I get healthy again?”

I realized that sitting around feeling sorry for myself would accomplish absolutely nothing. I was extremely fortunate; I found the lump at such an early stage that my cancer was completely curable.  So I made it a point to lead as “normal” a life as I could – I went to the beach and hung out with friends when I was feeling well, and came back to TCNJ in the fall, taking three classes while finishing the last of my treatments. I put on my wig, got myself dressed every morning, and put on a happy face to let everyone know that I was doing just fine. Cancer was not going to stop me from enjoying my junior year of college.

It was certainly a tough time, but I stayed positive, and was able to push through. Looking back on the past year and half of my life, I cannot believe everything that I have accomplished. I am officially one year out of treatment, and got a clean bill of health from my doctors.

I have learned a lot about myself over the past eighteen months. I have become a stronger person, and everything has been put into perspective for me. I don’t worry so much about the small things, and enjoy every life experience much more than I ever thought I could. I also learned how important the people in my life really are. I would not have gotten through this without the support of my friends and family.

I truly believe that his happened to me for a reason; I am a survivor, and want to help spread my message to other young women. Breast cancer is not just a disease for our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers; it is affecting women younger and younger every year. And as young women we are not invincible, although at times I know we think that we are.

Take my story as a reminder to protect yourself now.

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