When I was 22 I gave birth to my second child and, like the first, I took great joy in breastfeeding my beautiful daughter. When she was just a few months old, I found what felt like a piece of gravel in my right breast. The doctor informed me that breasts could feel very strange when breastfeeding and there was no need for a mammogram. I was also told that the radiation from the mammogram was a greater threat than breast cancer. Nine months later, when I finished breastfeeding my daughter, I returned to the doctor and got the same story.
Two years after my daughter's birth, I awoke one morning to find blood on the white t-shirt that I wore the night before. My first thought was that I had somehow injured myself during the night. It was when I went to the bathroom that I realized that the blood was coming from my right nipple. This moment changed my life forever.
Later that morning I went to a walk-in clinic, since my regular doctors still wouldn't follow through with my concern. The doctor immediately told me that I needed a mammogram. He scheduled an appointment for me at the University of Kentucky Medical Center that Friday afternoon at 4:00 P.M. My sister accompanied me to the center when we found out that they could not schedule a mammogram until that following Monday. They told me not to worry (yeah, right!), that it could be a cyst that had ruptured, even though the gravel feeling had multiplied greatly over the last two years.
My daughter's second birthday was during that horrible time. As I watched her and my son play, I prayed and hoped for the best. Monday at 9 A.M., I finally got my very long awaited mammogram. My mother came with me and I don't know how scared she was, but I was terrified. Does this happen to young, single mothers that are only 24? Surely not.
Within one hour we found out the horrible news. "You have extensive breast cancer," the doctor informed me. My first question, "Will I lose my breast?" The answer was "Yes, both of them immediately, for your best chances." My second question: "Will I die?" The answer was, "I don't know, we'll do everything we can for you."
Seventeen days later I lost both of my breasts. At the age of 24 I lost BOTH of my breasts to cancer. I was devastated. I was scared. I don't know if this is something you completely get over.
This year it will be four years since my diagnosis, and during those years I've had great sadness and amazing miracles. In 2003 I lost my fourth child in my second month of pregnancy and lost my reproductive organs to this horrible thing called cancer. The doctors then found malignant polyps in my colon, and my struggle continues.
Although these sad moments can be overwhelming, they are overshadowed by the miracles that keep you going. One of the miracles is when I met the man of my dreams in 2001. Breast or no breast, he loves me. What a man! In 2002, my next amazing miracle was the birth of my third beautiful child! How blessed I am.
If a doctor thinks you're too young for breast cancer, tell him or her my story. If you, too are battling, stay strong and never lose hope. If you love someone battling this horrible illness, love him or her a little more. We should all pray that one day we find a cure so that women and men of all ages do not have to go through the loss, pain and difficult struggle that so many of us had to face.
Natalie de la Varre