Before I got the news, I was a fairly normal 24 year old, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, and in, otherwise, good health. I had expressed no obvious signs of cancer, but one day, by complete happenstance, I discovered a lump.
I was reassured by many of my friends and family (plus a few Google searches) that young women develop normal, benign masses called fibroadenomas quite often and that that's probably what I'd had, but they encouraged me to get it checked out anyway. I went through the motions... breast exam, ultrasound imaging, biopsy... Things seemed like they were okay. There was definitely a mass there, but it was diagnosed as a rare, benign breast lesion called psuedoangiomatos stromal hyperplasia (PASH). I even got a second breast surgeon's opinion and still remember the quote, "I'm 99% sure, given your age, the diagnosis of PASH is correct. It's benign."
Since PASH is benign, I was given the option to have it monitored and reexamined in 6 months (the common practice) or I could have it surgically removed.
The thing is, I had dealt with an aggressive, benign desmoid tumor in the past. It took 4 years and 3 separate surgeries before the mass was fully removed from my leg. The pain and disfigurement from those experiences left me wary of leaving tumors and masses to grow so I took the uncommon route and opted to have my PASH removed.
When the pathology from the surgery came back as Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) it changed my life forever. After various additional testing, imaging and lymph node surgery, it was determined that I had stage 2b, grade 3, IDC and that the cancer had spread to at least 2 lymph nodes. Furthermore, the results of my genetic testing showed no mutations in any known genes linked to breast cancer and no family history predisposing me to develop the disease. So not only was I about 20 years "too young" for this type of cancer and had no explanation as to why I'd gotten it, but it was the kind of cancer that is known to grow and spread quickly, resulting in a worse prognosis if not treated.
Fortunately, I did "know my body", trusted my instincts and the advice of my family, and I caught my cancer before it was too late. I was dumbfounded when I discovered that I had cancer, but I was so grateful that I didn't let the mass grow for another 6 months as recommended. Who knows what kind of condition I'd be in today if I hadn't elected that surgery...
To date, I've completed 6 rounds of chemo and 6 weeks of 5x/week radiation, and I continue with targeted therapies through March of 2019. I've had good days and bad days, but, despite it all, I maintain a positive attitude and optimistic outlook.
Overall, I'd say I've handled the emotional and physical tolls of cancer and treatment as a champion.. the financial aspect, however, has not been so easy.
I was unable to work for 5 months during treatment which lead me to deplete my savings account and rack up my credit card bills just to get by. During this time I've relied heavily upon my family for not only emotional support, but financial support and rides to and from treatment as well.
I'm working part-time now, trying to get back on my feet, but while the bills continue to roll in, I continue to struggle to keep up. For at least 7 more months I will be in active treatment for my cancer. Beyond that, I'm looking at a lifetime of close monitoring and the looming threat of recurrence.
The money I hope to raise through this campaign will go toward helping me pay off my existing medical bills and credit card debt, plus provide some savings for future expenses related to treatment and recovery. Any bit you can offer is greatly appreciated. My family and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts!