I have a very high history of breast cancer on my mom’s side. My grandmother was diagnosed with it, a couple of my mom’s sisters had it, and my mom passed away when I was 18 of a brain aneurysm, but she had so many cysts in her breasts that they just took everything out of the inside and gave her implants. So, I grew up knowing that breast cancer runs in my family, and that I should be aware of my body. When I was 18 I found a lump and went to the doctor and he said, “It’s just a fibroid cyst. You don’t need to worry about it. Just keep watching it”, and sent me on my way. Over the years, one turned into two turned into three, but because I was so young I couldn’t find anyone to take me seriously. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s when somebody actually gave me a mammogram and a sonogram and said “its just fibroids you're fine don’t worry about it”.
I moved to New York City when I was 28 and I had a great gynecologist and she asked how long I had the fibroids. When I told her 10 years, she was shocked, “Ten years! What do you mean ten years? No one’s ever taken these out or done a biopsy, or anything? Why don’t we go ahead and take them out? If there’s nothing, great, if there’s something, then we’ll deal with it”. I said, “Sure lets do it!” I had been trying to get something done for ten years, and finally I was going to get it done. I went ahead and had them removed and they came back as stage one cancer. Thank God I found such a great doctor that understood.
I was diagnosed when I was 28 and had a double mastectomy the day after my 29th birthday, and then continued on with reconstruction from December through May. Only a few people that I worked with knew, most people thought I was having back surgery because I was just not dealing with it and not willing to talk about it. I grew up in San Diego, so I did it with the support of family from far away, and friends that I had in NYC. The few times that I did tell people, their reaction was so shocked and freaked out that I decided that I wasn’t going to tell anybody.
I had pretty drastic surgery. I was almost concave by the time I got out of there because they found so many other cysts and cells. I did keep my lymph nodes. Thank God I went to Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Everybody there was wonderful and they understood what I was going through. I was one of the youngest in New York City at that time to be diagnosed, and the woman next to me was 54. I was just some young girl in there, and couldn’t wait to get out. Friends and family were amazing, even though all of my family was in California. I had friends that I worked with who would come by on their lunch hour and help me open a can of soup. I couldn’t even brush my teeth, let alone open up a can or pick up anything.
After living in New York for almost seven years, I moved back to San Diego and started talking to the director for Boarding For Breast Cancer (http://www.b4bc.org/), a non-profit, youth-focused education, awareness, and fundraising foundation. Little by little I felt more at ease talking about it and started volunteering. I dealt with it with my own sick and twisted sense of humor and kept a lot of it to myself, until I realized that it’s something that I need to teach young men and young women about. I shouldn’t be selfish and keep my experience to myself. If I could reach one person at the Summer-X-Games then have them go home and check themselves every month, then I’ve done my job.
Learn to laugh about it. Learn to laugh with it, and keep smiling. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
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