After accidentally feeling a lump in my left breast back in December 2002, it took almost five months to be diagnosed with breast cancer because everyone, including me, thought that I was too young. I’d just turned 28-years-old and my life was in high gear! I was being a super-single mother to my six-year-old daughter, I was running my own boutique Public Relations company and I was the lead vocalist for a Soul-Funk band. I was truly a sister who was doing her thing and was invincible! Yet, something inside my body was growing that would change the course of my life forever.
On April 2, 2003, my doctor in the classic textbook fashion gave my diagnosis to me: “I’m sorry but I have bad news, you have breast cancer.” No! I screamed internally as the tears began to seep down my face. Perhaps he was just being inappropriate and would retract such a cruel post-April Fool’s Day joke. I waited for him to deliver the punch line and crack a smile. To no avail, his solemn demeanor remained in tack. This was real. I had breast cancer.
I was shocked, because it didn’t run in my family to my knowledge and I ate fairly well and worked out. Why did I come to this appointment alone? The doctor began rambling about treatment options, and other incomprehensible stuff. When he mentioned chemotherapy, I defiantly proclaimed to myself: “I am not doing chemotherapy, I do not want to be bald!”
My resistance to chemotherapy would hold no weight. After that day my world-wind affair with cancer began. First I had a mastectomy to remove the entire breast because the tumor was about five centimeters. Luckily I was able to have reconstructive surgery, so I retained somewhat of my figure – although I went down from a 34D to a 34C. I then had to endure four months of chemotherapy which, in addition to common side-effects like fatigue, it made me become bald and beautiful. I got the beautiful part from my daughter who told me that, “Mommy, you look beautiful bald, but you have to wear a wig to my school!”
I obliged because it was already a lot for a six-year-old to bear seeing her mother change so much physically. I tried my best to maintain emotionally intact for her sake and simply told her that my breasts were sick because I didn’t want to scare her. Overall, I remained prayerful and optimistic that all would be well. I was empowered by my loved-ones, and I drew on my internal strength in order to make it through. Today, I am healed.
Since then, I have resumed my stride. I now work as the Diversity and Programs Manager for the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) the only international, non-profit network of breast cancer survivors and supporters dedicated to the concerns and issues that are unique to young women and breast cancer. I am dedicated to using my face and story to help change the perception that breast cancer is the disease of older women.
Indeed, women over 40 should get mammograms, but generally this is not an effective tool to detect breast cancer in young women because it’s hard to detect abnormalities this way because our breasts are denser. However, I am encouraging all women to take control of their lives and bodies. If you feel that something is wrong, do not ignore it; follow up with your doctor. Do not take the answer that you’re too young. I didn’t, and I am alive today in great part because I decided to be my own best advocate. You can too.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 15-54.
More than 11,500 women age 40 and under will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and close to 1,400 will die.
There are more than 250,000 women in the United States age 40 and under currently living with breast cancer.
One in every 227 women between the ages of 30 and 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the next ten years.
Young women’s cancers are generally more aggressive and result in lower survival rates.
The five-year survival rate for young women with breast cancer is 83 percent, which is lower than their post-menopausal counterparts.
There is no effective breast cancer screening tool for women ages 40 and under.
Young women with breast cancer struggle with many issues that their post-menopausal counterparts don’t face, including: the possibility of early menopause, pregnancy after diagnosis, more advanced cancers at diagnosis and higher mortality rates.
Younger women are an underrepresented population in many breast cancer research studies.
Source: Young Survival Coalition, www.youngsurvival.org or 877-ysc-1011
Khadijah “Vibes” Carter is a professional singer and an inspirational speaker whose new CD This Day – a compilation of Inspirational songs and poems – was written while she was undergoing breast cancer treatment. To read more about her story, hear the music and support the cause, please visit: www.thisdaythemovement.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.