Stage III triple-negative breast cancer survivor encourages breast awareness

I never expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer at age 24. So, when I found a mass in my left breast in the summer of 2017, I wasn’t really concerned. I assumed it was a fibroid, and waited until my annual check-up a few months later to ask my gynecologist about it.

She thought it was probably a fibroid, too, but she sent me to MD Anderson’s Undiagnosed Breast Clinic to be sure. There, I had a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound. The results showed it was either an infection or breast cancer, so I had a biopsy, too.

My doctor called me with the results a few days later. I was out of town at a conference at the time, but I didn’t think she could possibly have bad news. So, when she asked if I was in a good place to talk about it, I answered, “Of course!” That’s when I found out I had invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer.

My triple-negative breast cancer treatment

My heart dropped when I heard the news. I wasn’t even 25 yet, and there was no history of cancer in my family.

My doctor said my breast cancer was triple-negative, which meant it didn’t have any genetic markers that could be used for targeted therapy. The cancer was also very aggressive — already at stage III. I needed to start treatment right away.

I’d only lived in Houston for about a year at that point, and I always kind of wondered why I ended up there. But after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I think I found my reason: to be close to the No. 1 cancer center in the world.

I’d already heard about MD Anderson’s reputation through my work in the medical field, so I knew that it was the only place to be. I flew home to Texas and had my first chemotherapy infusion at MD Anderson on Sept. 21, 2017. I completed 22 of the 28 rounds I’d been prescribed, but stopped because scans showed the mass was getting bigger.

Dr. David Ramirez said I needed surgery. I had a complete mastectomy and 34 lymph nodes removed from my left side on Feb. 8, 2018.

My plans for a preventive mastectomy and breast reconstruction

Fortunately, 95% of my tumor turned out to be dead tissue, so what had appeared to be growth on my scans was actually just swelling and scar tissue. That meant the chemotherapy had been working after all. Which was great news.

Because of that, my doctor said I could start radiation therapy right away. I had 33 rounds of it under Dr. Eric Strom, starting in March 2018, and rang the bell to mark the end of my treatment on May 8, 2018.

I’ve shown no evidence of disease since my surgery. But due to the high risk of recurrence from triple-negative breast cancer, I had another surgery at the end of November. Dr. Sarah DeSnyder removed my other breast and Dr. Summer Hanson reconstructed both.

My advice to other young women: pay attention to your body

There was no genetic component to my breast cancer, and mammograms aren’t recommended for most women until they reach their 40s. That’s why I tell my girlfriends, “Pay attention to your body.” I also encourage them to get to know their breasts and watch for changes regularly.

Because if you’re younger than 40 and don’t have any other risk factors, early detection is how you’re going to find this.

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