Breast Cancer at 31

Being 30 years old, I did not see myself as a breast cancer candidate.

It took me 8 months from when my gynecologist and I felt a lump on my left breast until I finally got a mammogram; and eventually a mastectomy. Being 30 years old, I did not see myself as a breast cancer candidate. At most I thought maybe the lump was a benign mass of a typical young woman. In between these 8 months, I turned 31 and I decided to do a sonogram. The doctor performing the sonogram noted a healthy right breast and she used a Spanish word “ampliación” to explain that the left breast needed further study due to possible future malignancy. The communication between the doctor (image reader) and myself was a failure. If she intended to put me in a state of alert, she did not succeed.

There’s history of cancer in my family that is hard to talk about, because it happened in kids. My older sister Carla passed away in 1999, from brain cancer at the age of 13, after 4 years of battle. My first cousin also passed away from a similar brain tumor at only 4 years old, two years after my sister. My aunt had had breast cancer at the age of 48 and my great grandmother passed away from breast cancer in her early 40s (there were no treatments at the time). These are painful memories and it makes you think our family has been through too much for it to happen again. I also never seriously considered that at 30 I would have to worry about breast cancer. I always thought I would start check-ups with annual mammograms in my later thirties, or forty years old.

Four months after my sonogram went by, distracted by events going on in my life. I got engaged, my younger sister had her first child and I went to Europe to sign for my new Spanish nationality due to Sephardic ancestors. During this time, I arranged an appointment with a breast specialist, but he suggested I could possibly have tuberculosis, a chronic sickness common in South America.

“I can survive breast cancer but if I never have babies, I would rather die”

Despite being recently engaged and excited about my future, I was not happy because deep down I knew something was not right. I could not set a wedding date and I was just getting distracted looking for bridal gowns and making things in disorder – prioritizing wedding planning instead of my breast discomfort. My mother’s maternal instinct noticed something was going wrong so she took control and shifted direction. Where to? Miami.

In the United States, the doctors put us in a state of alert and the ductal carcinoma was confirmed in two days of pathology studies. The news was devastating but I can confess that my biggest fear, at first, was the thought of not being able to become a mother. I remember telling my mom “I can survive breast cancer but if I never have babies, I would rather die”. I froze my eggs and broke off my engagement, all in the same week. But I was still mad at life and angry about having to postpone my motherhood plans. Somehow though, the experience gave me the clarity -that I had been engaged with the wrong person and probably, what kept us together was the idea of having kids. No kids soon, no boyfriend.

“I did not want to bring my parents back to those years, 20 years ago, again seeing their daughter with no hair, going through nausea.”

After my mastectomy, the surgeon informed me that chemotherapy was necessary and my fear shifted completely. The motherhood issue went to a second layer and I became afraid of chemotherapy itself. Having grew up in a house with a sister who was going through chemotherapy in the late 1990’s, I knew too much about chemotherapy. I wish I did not know- but I knew. My parents knew. And I did not want to bring my parents back to those years, 20 years ago, again seeing their daughter with no hair, going through nausea. It was inevitable though, to remember my sister Carla. In certain way, I am relieved I was able to speak the fears that I repressed when I was little. I am currently on my last round of chemotherapy and during the past 16 weeks I have been promising myself to use this turning point in my life to just live with less fear, or handle it better. I realize now my fears are not simply about breast cancer, but more of an instinctual human being fear, afraid of the unknown. I even dare myself to say I am living a healthy life because healthy for me means, surrounding myself with good company and, receiving love from my family, which is key in who I am, and of course, eating delicious Peruvian food!

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