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  • Battling Breast Cancer at 16

    Personal Stories, Community, Advocacy

     

    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 disease.

    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.

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