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How does a young, active woman get stage 2 breast cancer?

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. Last year, I paid tribute to the women and men I’ve known who battled the disease. This year, October brings on even more special meaning for me since my dear friend, Rebecca, has been walking the walk and talking the talk about beating down her breast cancer. I wanted to take this opportunity to share her story so others can learn the importance of self-breast exams and early detection.

Find the Cure Pink Ribbon MagnetRebecca has always been a light and joy in the lives of everyone she knows.  She and her fabulous husband have been married just three years and are one of the funnest couples I know.  She enjoys life like no one I’ve ever known, making sure to spend time with all of her loved ones as much as possible.  She’s the friend that, no matter how long it’s been since you last talked, you pick up right where you left off and you’re thankful to have her in your life.  Rebecca is the type of girl you know could conquer anything that comes in her path and still have time to spare for someone who needs her.

No one would have expected breast cancer to be one of those obstacles for her.

When she and her husband were on vacation this past February, it came as quite a surprise when she found a lump on her breast.  Immediately upon her return home, she contacted her doctor for an exam.  They told her it would be 2 weeks before the doctor could see her.

Lesson 1 for all who read this: If you find a lump, do everything you can to get into your doctor right away and if you can’t, find out if you can get in to be seen by a different doctor.

After her exam in mid March, she had a mammogram, ultrasound, and MRI which resulted in a biopsy being scheduled by her radiologist.  On March 25th, she was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma.  It was just after her 32nd birthday.

In early April, Rebecca’s tumor was removed along with all the lymph nodes in her left arm.  The cancer had already spread to 2 of her lymph nodes and the others were removed as a precaution.  Fortunately, the cancer had only spread to one of them and doctors were confident that all the cancer was removed.

After she knew the pathology of her cancer, she told her extended family and friends about the cancer.  Right away, everyone had questions.  Is this cancer hereditary?  Will you need chemo?  What is your prognosis?  And the question we all had, how does Rebecca, a young, active woman get stage 2 breast cancer?

It turns out that Rebecca’s breast cancer growth was a mutation stimulated by hormones and was aggressive growing.  She also found out that her type of breast cancer was not hereditary, which was a huge relief as she was concerned for others in her family.  Her treatment schedule was for 6 rounds of chemotherapy over a period of 18 weeks followed by 6 1/2 weeks of radiation therapy.

I asked Rebecca recently if she had found the lump while doing a self-breast exam.  Her answer was no, and that she really didn’t stay on top of doing her self-exams.  She just happened to brush up against it while getting dressed.

Lesson 2: No matter what your age, do a monthly self-breast exam.

Most people would think that this would put a stop all together to Rebecca’s active life.  WRONG!  While she has had more times than normal where she’s needed to rest or, during chemo weeks, didn’t do much at all, she’s still almost twice as active as I am.  She follows her doctors’ advice very closely, but she hasn’t let that stop her.  She’s taken up the services offered to her by her cancer treatment facility like yoga and massage (the one she really really enjoys) and has had fun trying on different hair styles and colors with her wigs.  She’s attended weddings, family reunions, a concert, and even traveled a little.  She is a living example of a person having cancer, but not letting cancer have her.  This is merely a bump in her road of life.

As of today, Rebecca has completed her chemo treatments and has moved on to radiation therapy.  She now keeps us updated about the rate at which her hair is growing back (currently at peach fuzz stage), the fun things she’s finding at garage sales, and hopes to have the bulk of this behind her by Thanksgiving.

From Rebecca’s experience, I have learned this important lesson:

Lesson 3: Don’t just fight – LIVE!

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