31 Aug 2012
Kellie Robertson was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer two years ago at the age of 31. She has been through treatment and is now set to marry her fiancé on June 15. In lieu of wedding gifts, she is graciously asking her friends and family to donate to the PBCC. Here is Kellie's story of survival after a jarring diagnosis at such a young age. I see two main challenges for young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer: the questions of infertility following chemo and the downsides of genetic testing for someone my age. I found that while my doctors were generally lovely and helpful, they were really not as interested in my own unique concerns. They weren't completely prepared to deal with a 31-year old with breast cancer. They were concerned with survival. I was concerned with quality of life. The doctors encouraged chemotherapy because of my age. But at 31, my questions of infertility were big ones. I had done a lot of online research and there were simply not enough conclusive findings or clinical trials being done in this area. At the time, I didn't know for sure if I ever wanted kids, but I knew I wanted it to remain an option! My treatment ended up as a lumpectomy, 3 months of chemotherapy and 6 weeks of radiation. At this point, my fertility remains in question. Time will tell. Hair loss was not all that traumatic for me. The nice thing about being 31 when you are diagnosed is that you can have a shaved head and people think it's a fashion statement. My next big question was that of genetic testing. Are there enough federal guidelines in place to protect my privacy? Will my personal information end up with my insurance company? Since my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 7 years ago, genetic testing is a subject near and dear to me. One day I hope to participate in a clinical trial for women at high risk for ovarian cancer. "Groups like the PBCC have organized and have a real sense of a political mission around a topic that can often leave people feeling frustrated and helpless. There ARE things we can do!" - Kellie Robertson One of the great pleasures to come out of this whole experience is the opportunity the PBCC has given me to speak about it in public. The PBCC does an amazing job of getting information out to women, but not overwhelming them. I've come to learn and appreciate two things since my diagnosis. One is seeing firsthand the grace and courage of other women who have breast cancer. I am amazed by them. My support group continues to be a source of wonder and strength for me. Many people think support group meetings are going to be like an Oprah Winfrey show. It's really not. It's more like being at a medical conference than at some afternoon talk show! The second is the knowledge that groups like the PBCC have organized and have a real sense of a political mission around a topic that can often leave people feeling frustrated and helpless. There ARE things we can do! I will never be one of these people who says, "I'm so grateful for my breast cancer. It's made me a better person." But I am grateful to be the beneficiary of an outpouring of love and good will. It gives me a sense of being more connected to the world. I've seen people's capacity for kindness in the face of something very bad. Kellie is an assistant professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh. She and her fiancé just bought a house and are gearing up for their wedding. They are going on an Alaskan cruise for their honeymoon because Kellie says, "I just want someone else to drive the boat for a while."