Natasha Renee Burse, Dauphin County
Diagnosed in 2015
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
In the summer of 2015. I felt a lump in my breast and went to my family physician for a clinical breast exam. She referred me to a surgeon, then the surgeon ordered an ultrasound and mammogram. The results showed a tumor and she thought it might be fibro adenoma because of my age.
Why? What was your age?
I was 25 years old at the time.
What happened next? What was your treatment?
The surgeon asked me what I wanted to do, either a needle biopsy or a surgical biopsy. I chose the surgical biopsy for two reasons. I am from Dallas, Texas and was headed to Pennsylvania to pursue a Ph.D. at Pennsylvania State University.
The second reason was that I didn’t want to be awake during the procedure. In June 2015 I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2. I went to one hospital for diagnosis and a different hospital for treatment.
I had six rounds of chemo, then a double mastectomy, and after that I went through immunotherapy. I chose a double mastectomy because I had a genetic mutation p53. All this went from December 2015 all the way to August 2016 in Texas and then I started school at Penn State in August 2016.
What are you doing currently at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey?
I transferred a doctoral degree in public health at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey in August 2017. My mentor is Dr. Kathryn Schmitz and she’s the reason I transferred here. She’s an exercise interventionist and promotes exercise to limit the side effects of chemotherapy.
Who supported your throughout your treatment process?
The support was multi-faceted, both through the Affordable Care Act and my dad’s insurance during treatment. When I turned 26 in August I got different coverage but the hospital wasn’t accepting my insurance. My friends and family covered some of my expenses via GoFundMe. My mom was my primary caregiver and she devoted everything to getting me better.
How did you come to know about the PA Breast Cancer Coalition?
I was heading to the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg and saw a sign outside the Hilton. I went to the PBCC website and found all the information I needed there.
What was your experience like at the 2017 PBCC Conference?
I applied for a scholarship to the conference. I wouldn’t have been able to come otherwise. I gained so many insights! Dr. Cliff Hudis gave a really great presentation on obesity, breast cancer, and inflammation. I liked how he talked about post-menopausal women who might be obese at diagnosis and may have worse outcomes later and increased inflammation. It’s such an important thing to talk about. We don’t really know if obesity affects the whole cancer continuum from diagnosis to survivorship. It may contribute to all of it. It was cool being there and meeting so many survivors.
Is there something you’d like other women to learn from your story?
The more information you have, the better. Be aware of any changes. I tell people to stay active. The CDC recommends that adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. That breaks down to 30 minutes a day for five days a week.
Do you have any advice for someone whose friend or loved one is diagnosed?
Yes. My mom was involved and knew what was going on and was patient with the process and asked a lot of questions. Educate yourself about the topic and find healthy foods to prepare for the patient. Make sure the patient is not sitting around too much, go for a walk with them. Reach out to others who are going through the same thing, maybe with a support group for caregivers.