It was the happiest time in my life. I had just gotten engaged two months before, had just finished running my first two 5Ks, and was in the best shape of my life. My job was great, I loved my family and friends and social life, and now was planning to marry the love of my life. That’s when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my world changed. I am Marjorie, a 26-year-old newspaper reporter who was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2011.
I had recently lost about 30 pounds on Weight Watchers, and was running 5Ks with my fiancé. I found a lump in the shower while doing a self-breast exam. Being a childhood cancer survivor (I had Leukemia when I was 12), I was understandably worried. But when I called my doctors they reassured me: I was 26. Too young to get breast cancer. The lump was probably just a cyst.
Luckily, my doctor scheduled a fine needle aspiration anyway. A few days later, on the first day of Passover, I was at my fiance’s family’s house near Philadelphia when I got the call at 8:30 in the morning. That’s how I knew something was wrong. The doctor told me, over the phone, that some cancer cells showed up in my fine needle aspiration, and I would need to be treated. Days later I was in Hershey, and for the two weeks that followed my life was a blur. There was test after test after test. And after each test was more waiting. And wondering. And crying. Would I get married in March like we had planned? Would we even be able to plan this wedding? Why was this happening to me, right now? I’m a 26-year-old bride-to-be at the prime in her life. Why me, and why now?
Later it was confirmed I had DCIS- Ductal Carcinoma in Situ. I had a right mastectomy in May with three lymph nodes removed. Luckily, the cancer was caught so early it hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes, and no invasive cancer was found, so no chemotherapy was needed. I tested negative for hormone receptors, so I didn’t receive any type of hormone treatment, and tested negative for the BRCA gene, so the doctor didn’t recommend a bilateral mastectomy.
During my mastectomy surgery I had a tissue expander put in to prepare my skin and chest for a permanent implant later down the road. My doctor confirmed that the mastectomy got “all of it” but was still concerned about how close the tumor was to my skin, so I went in for another surgery in August in which she removed more skin, muscle and fat to get a clear margin. The pathology came back clear. It was officially gone. Now I have just finished my second round of saline fills for my expander, and am waiting for my implant surgery which will be in the end of October.
The wedding planning is well underway and we are scheduled to walk down the aisle in March! My fiancé and his family, and my family, and all of our friends have been absolutely phenomenal throughout the process. I don’t know what I would do without them by my side. Although my treatment is done, I still have my reconstructive surgery left. I’m also left with fear and anxiety of the cancer returning, or occurring in the other breast. I am learning to deal, each day, with my “new normals” – having a very painful tissue expander, and eventually silicone implants. And knowing I lost a breast at the age of 26 to cancer.
Each day is a new journey, and I’m chugging along, but I’m scared, hurt and torn up. I know I have the inner strength to get through this, and an amazing support system to lean on. I know this experience, however painful and devastating, both physically and emotionally, will make me a stronger, better person in the end. I’m working hard to be my best me.
I want younger women to be aware that breast cancer can happen to them, and to do self-exams. If I hadn’t found my own cancer I don’t know how many months, or years, it would have been until it was found. People don’t talk enough about young women with breast cancer. But, we’re out there and we deserve to be heard.
Marjorie Stromberg is one of two Survivor Story winners from our September Pink Link contest.