Personal Stories, Community, Advocacy
By: Amanda Oberstein
There is a wide misconception that young people can’t get
breast cancer. For the past several years there has been a debate as to when a
woman of average risk should start regular screening. For years the screening
guidelines state that average-risk women should start getting mammograms at age
40, while others have suggested women wait until the age of 50 to start regular
screening. But does that mean women under 40 don’t get the disease? Wrong.
Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate based on age.
Nikia Hammonds Blakely knows this first hand. She first
discovered she had breast cancer when she was just sixteen years old.
She was in the shower one morning getting ready for school
when she felt the lump. She rushed to tell her mom what she found and decided
to go to the doctor to get it checked out immediately. Nikia’s doctor said,
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s nothing. You’re a teenager, and girls your
age are just developing.” Nikia’s doctor was wrong. It wasn’t nothing. Not only
did she have breast cancer, but she had a rare and very aggressive form of the
Most 16 year old girls are worried about getting asked to
the prom and studying for exams, but Nikia had to worry about survival.
After consulting with her doctor, Nikia decided to have a
partial mastectomy of the left breast. She had very limited access to quality
healthcare and treatment options. Rather than seeing a surgical oncologist, she
was seen by a general surgeon who left her with botched incisions and didn’t
lay out her options in terms of breast reconstruction or prosthetics.
As traumatic as her experience was, Nikia says her cancer
gave her a resolve she never had before. Facing her mortality made her realize
how precious life is and ignited a desire to make the most out of her life. Before
her diagnosis, Nikia says she was only an average student. Yet once she decided
she would beat her cancer, she earned straight A’s and became the first person
in her family to go to college. And every year, like
clockwork, she got her regular mammogram.
Breast cancer was her new normal,
and Nikia recognized the importance of spreading the word to her peers that
young women can be diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided to take
action to help others. Nikia became an advocate on her college campus, encouraging
other young women to learn the signs of breast cancer. Shortly after, she
became involved with Susan G. Komen. Nikia learned that Komen wanted to hear
from underserved communities in terms of breast cancer treatment and access. Nikia
was a perfect fit, and was voted in as part of the Young Women’s National
Advisory Council. Later, Nikia participated in a lobby day where she traveled
with other Komen advocates to Capitol Hill. She sat down with legislators and
had a voice in conversations about new bills that would affect insurance
coverage for people under 40. Nikia was a living witness to the fact that
breast cancer impacts young people too, and their voices needed to be heard.
Eighteen years after her first breast cancer diagnosis,
Nikia’s annual mammogram showed suspicious activity. Given her history, Nikia’s
doctor decided to check it out. “Maybe it’s nothing,” he said. Sure enough, the
doctor found very early onset breast cancer. She beat the disease once, and
would do it again. Armed with the information she had gained from her first
experience with breast cancer, Nikia was in the driver’s seat. She was able to
dictate her course of treatment and chose to have a double mastectomy.
Nikia has battled breast cancer for more than 20 years, and
she knows more about life with breast cancer than without it. Through the
process, she found her strength and voice and has seized every opportunity to
share it with other people—through sharing her story with other women, through
her music, and through writing. Nikia is the author of THE FIGHT: Chronicles of
a Champion, a 12-round narrative about journey to survive and thrive through
some of life’s most challenging obstacles, and a new book Crosses and Crowns: A
Counseling Guide for Living as Champions in Marriage.
Nikia will be the first to tell anyone that breast cancer
doesn’t discriminate. It can find you at any age. Through sharing her story,
she hopes to inspire other women like her to learn about their breast cancer
risk, understand their normal and feel empowered to become their own advocate.
Has your life been touched by breast cancer? Click the link below to share your story.
Return to Blog Home