I started practicing monthly breast self-exams in my early 20s, on the advice of my mother (my maternal grandmother was diagnosed in her 70s but lived a healthy life until age 94). Thirteen years ago, shortly after my 28th birthday, I discovered a lump and consulted my gynecologist. A series of tests, then a biopsy and news that the tumor was malignant followed. Family, my friends, doctors and I were all stunned since I was so young.
At that moment, I started researching my options and decided that a mastectomy and reconstruction were what was best for me at the time. I was fortunate that my tumor was small, my lymph nodes were negative, and chemo and/or radiation was not necessary. However, the next two years were a series of surgeries and procedures for the reconstruction process, which became a very emotional and trying time. My guardian angel and confidant was my mother. As much as it hurt her to see what I was going through, she was always there for me and still is. I also attribute my coping to my team of doctors. They were all women, in their early- to mid-40s, and I was able to communicate with them from the heart. I think my being so young was a learning experience for them, as well.
I had, and still have, a wonderful group of supportive friends who have been with me every step of the way. What I found difficult was trying to find someone I could relate to. I attempted a couple of support groups in my area, but most of the women were much older, and many of their concerns very different from mine. This is when I really became depressed and yearned for someone I could relate to. My girlfriends were wonderful, but really had no concept of what I was going through and nor would I want them to. Today, I make myself available to other young women who have been diagnosed to discuss issues that are important to them such as sexuality. Being diagnosed at 28 is not common, but it does happen and, if I can help someone else deal with it, then I am happy to do so. I also think it is important to convey the life-saving message of early detection and monthly breast self-exams.
My work with Susan G. Komen for the Cure has been the most rewarding thing I have done, as it has given me the opportunity to meet women with similar experiences. In the big scheme of things I feel so lucky and blessed. Breast cancer was a life-changing event, but when I think of how I have grown as a person, I wouldn't change a thing. Today I am proud to say I am a breast cancer survivor.
Steve Del Gardo