I always suspected I might get cancer. My maternal side is riddled with cancer. My mother had ovarian cancer when she was pregnant with me in her late 20s. My grandmother had cervical cancer in her mid-40s. An aunt had breast cancer in her early 50s. I assumed it would only be a matter of time before I would be added to the family cancer tree, but I never thought it would happen before I had even turned 40.
I was able to receive a preventative mammogram at 35 due to family history. It was clear, and I was told to come back when I was 40.
Two months after my 39th birthday, I spotted a circular bruise on the back of my left arm and found what felt like a large hard fist near my left underarm. I called my primary care doctor, and she immediately wrote an order for a diagnostic mammogram, which then led to a biopsy.
My biopsy was on a late Friday afternoon on 9/11/15. It felt wrong and scary to have a biopsy of the mass in my left breast on such a nationally tragic day. I was told the results would be available within 24 to 48 hours. Since I was the last patient of that day, I was expecting the results either Tuesday or Wednesday.
So when my cellphone rang at 3:05 p.m. that Monday, I instinctively knew I should answer it even though I didn’t recognize the number. When I flash back to this memory, it is like I am suspended above my work cubicle, watching everything unfold.
I see myself running down the hall into an empty conference room.
I see my eyes filling with tears yet widening in disbelief.
I see my hand shaking while holding my phone.
“Megan-Claire, you have invasive lobular breast cancer. We don’t know the stage yet. You need to get a pen and paper and take some notes because time is of the essence.”
I will never forget the fear and panic crushed me like a tsunami after receiving the cancer call. Once I met my medical team, I was officially diagnosed with Stage IIA invasive lobular, ER+/PR+, HER2- in the left breast. It is the second most common type of breast cancer, but only accounts for about 10% to 15% of all invasive breast cancers.
It’s crazy how hearing those words completely changed the trajectory of my life. Every plan and dream I had up to that point became frozen because I didn’t know if I would survive breast cancer. I wasn’t even sure I would have a future.
Since I was diagnosed under age 40, I was often the youngest person in the infusion room. I had to work during all my treatments. I wasn’t even close to the typical retirement age. Fortunately, I was able to find fantastic online support aimed at adolescent and young adult cancer survivors (AYA) through organizations like Elephants and Tea, GRYT Health, and Stupid Cancer.
My diagnosis forced me down a path that no one could fully prepare for, including coming face-to-face with my own mortality at 39. I’ve survived 16 rounds of chemo, eight total surgeries, 33 radiation treatments, blood transfusions, multiple infections, and infertility.
Life is fleeting. The fear of the unknown and getting scans every 6 months for 10 years pushes me to live life with renewed passion and purpose because tomorrow is not promised.
photo credit: FG Trade/E+ via Getty Images