Kathleen Hammett: Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew I was a survivor.

Welcome back to the C4YW Blog, as we welcome Kathleen Hammett to our growing group of writers. Kathleen has a very compelling story, and she will continue to share with us the ups and downs of parenting after diagnosis. Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

On October 1st, 2007, we joyously welcomed our third daughter, Clara Elizabeth, into our family. The C-section went smoothly and we were looking forward to a speedy recovery. Things did not go as planned. Sixty hours after her birth, barely alive, I was rushed into surgery to evacuate a massive retroperitoneal hemorrhage, so large it had displaced my kidneys and bladder and had even caused my lungs to collapse.

Barely alive after multiple blood transfusions. At least I'm off the ventilator!

Barely alive after multiple blood transfusions. At least I’m off the ventilator!

This was the end of a long journey for my husband and me. Our first daughter was born blind (our Amazing Grace who can now see), our second daughter was born asleep; we were blessed with Ella in our third pregnancy, but lost another daughter on our fourth try. We were physically and mentally exhausted. I woke up in the ICU on a ventilator, 57 staples running from my chest all the way down, minus a uterus, and a long way from recovery. My baby, along with my dreams of a large family went home two weeks before I did. It took an amazing nurse, many generous blood donors, extremely supportive friends and family, and a lot of inner strength to begin healing.

When Clara was 7 months old I decided it was time to get a physical, with a family history of breast cancer this always included a mammogram even though I was only 36.

Obviously I would not be posting on this blog if the results had come back clean and clear. After 7 months of constant medical appointments dealing with the aftermath of a horrific birth experience I was facing the prospect of death again and my tank was completely on empty.

In life, it is so amazing how quickly our perspective can change.

As I went through the normal battery of diagnostic testing we were thrilled at how BLESSED I was to have DCIS. Since both of my breasts were scattered with DCIS coming to terms with a double mastectomy proved to be very difficult for me. My breasts were how I had fed and comforted my babies. Clara was only 7 months old and I had just lost my uterus, could I really stand to lose all my female parts in under a year? Would I ever feel like a woman again? Would a love of shoes be all that separated me from the boys?

Again, after almost dying in child birth and then getting a double mastectomy less than a year later I found myself proclaiming how BLESSED I was: negative nodes! Perspective is an amazing thing.

As I began to heal from yet another major surgery, I started walking daily. Clara took her morning and afternoon naps in the stroller as I pushed my way back to health. After several months I began jogging between mailboxes….this was a MIRACLE! Having developed large breasts in the 6th grade I had literally never been able to run, I could teach step aerobics and spinning all day long, but the repetitive motion of running was too hard on my breasts and back.

As my body regained its muscular strength, I was regaining my inner strength. I am a longtime group fitness instructor and have had the opportunity to help so many women as they heal from breast cancer treatments. I am able to listen and relate to their struggles as I teach them to return to exercise slowly and safely. Each time I get another survivor physically ready to return to live their normal lives, I feel like I have beaten cancer one more time. Our minds heal so much more quickly when we are moving.

Our bodies can overcome so much and with enough work, passion and dedication it is possible to come back and be as strong as or even stronger than before. We are often surrounded by people with excuses or an “I can’t” attitude, coming back from breast cancer, or any cancer shows us that obstacles are meant to be hurdled, cleared or completely obliterated!

Me today, happy healthy and strong!

Me today, happy healthy and strong!

Having never run before cancer, I have now completed five marathons (even qualifying for the Boston Marathon by ten minutes), many 50Ks, and other (even longer) distance races.

Life is good and I am happy to say how incredibly BLESSED I have been!

Perspective.

Kathleen is a wife and full time mom to three amazing, energetic and dramatic daughters.  She loves her part time job teaching group fitness and manages to find time to train for and compete in many running events, ultra-marathons through wooded trails being her favorite.  Kathleen has been cancer free for four years and credits a loving family, a lot of yoga and many trail miles for her happy outlook moving towards the future. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Kathleen,  and you can also follow her story on her own Blog.

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Mary Craige: This is Going to be a Great Year!

As the C4YW Blog starts the new year with a plethora of inspiring writers, we welcome back Mary Craige with her January entry. Be sure to  check back each month, as Mary has bravely decided to keep us up-to-date on her fertility planning and treatment after a breast cancer diagnosis at age 34.  Her strong voice and particular story is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

That is the statement I start every New Year with, along with a list of two or three attainable resolutions. I am not a ‘I want to lose weight” kind of resolutioner because I try to stay fit and eat healthy all year round. My normal resolutions are usually small things, like “make the bed every morning”. Silly things like that are easy and give you a sense of accomplishment.

This month will mark almost three years since my initial breast cancer diagnosis and two years since I completed treatment. It also marks two years of taking Tamoxifen, the drug I have been taking to keep my cancer from recurring. My fingers are crossed that the annual scans and blood work will show that I am holding steady at “No Evidence of Disease” (NED).

It is also the month I’ve been waiting to arrive for almost two years. When my oncologist released me from active treatment in December 2010, she told me, “In January 2013, we’ll start talking about having another baby.”

Mary Craige

Well, its 2013 and I’m ready to start talking.

There is a lot to do over the next two months. I started with a visit to a new reproductive endocrinologist at the fertility practice my husband I am went to in 2010 to preserve my fertility using IVF. This was a ‘getting to know you’ meeting to discuss risks associated with another pregnancy, my fertility status and potential next steps. After a 45 minute consultation and review of my medical history, I left with a plan…that wasn’t much of a plan.

Cancer seems to always throw a monkey wrench into things. Not that this was a monkey wrench, but it was more of a ‘hold your horses’ moment. Although there is no definitive research saying that pregnancy after breast cancer can cause recurrence, doctors are often reluctant to do anything until a survivor has finished at least three years of Tamoxifen. I just passed year two.

Why stop Tamoxifen before three years? It certainly wasn’t a rash decision, or one that my husband and I made overnight. It was an informed decision but it is also a risky one. Tamoxifen wreaked havoc on me, physically and mentally. It helped push me into early menopause, helped to cause osteopenia and osteoporosis and gave me unbearable nightly hot flashes.

Life on Tamoxifen was challenging. While I understand that five years of hormone therapy is best, I often liken the Tamoxifen regiment to a daily exercise regime. We all know that we should do 30 minutes of exercise daily to stay healthy. Doctors have found that daily exercise decreases our risks of some cancers, heart disease and stroke. Do we always take the 30 minute walk around the block or the daily trek to the gym? Not always, but many of us try. That’s how I think of Tamoxifen. Should I take it every day for 5 years? Probably. I tried my hardest to live with the side effects. I took other drug, I pushed myself physically and adjusted my sleep to try and get through the night without a hot flash. Unfortunately, like many young women, I found the side effects to be difficult to mitigate without other drugs or treatments.

Once my scans and annual blood work are complete, I will revisit my options with my reproductive endocrinologist. Until then, the focus is on getting through those tests with a clear bill of health. Hopefully next January 1st, I will continue with the phrase, “It’s going to be another great, cancer-free year”.

Mary Craige is a wife, mother, daughter, friend and breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2010 when her son was seven months old, Mary found blogging to be an outlet for her feelings about treatment, fertility challenges and survivorship. Since finishing treatment in 2010, she rode in two 200 mile Tour de Pink West Coast rides. The Tour de Pink helped her take her body back after treatment and proved that she could thrive after cancer. Mary currently works as a Content Marketing Manager for a large data company. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Mary, and head over to the C4YW site to check out the wonderful programming for this year’s event, as well as the great deals we’ve put together for airfare and hotel prices.

Natalia Valencia: From Bogota, Colombia to C4YW, Orlando

The C4YW Blog  is very excited to introduce Natalia Valencia as one of our newest writers. Natalia reached out to us to share the important impact that attending C4YW in Orlando (2011) had on her as a non-US resident.  Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent, and we are honored to know that C4YW has a growing reach to women affected by breast cancer. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

My Name is Natalia Valencia. I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer the day I turned 32 years old. Today I am 35. I feel fine and am now on tamoxifen and regular checkups, but the worst part, I feel, is over.  I live in Bogota, Colombia, South America. I am happily married, and live in a country house with my 4 cats and my dog. It is very beautiful down here.

Thanks to a travel grant I had the opportunity to participate in the 2011 C4YW that took place in Orlando. It was an experience that changed my perspective on a lot of issues, and that is why I wanted to tell you my story, so you can look at things from a different point of view. This post is probably going to sound like I am complaining, but I am not, I am thankful I am a survivor, I am grateful I am fine, and I never had any complications with my treatment. However, I do want to share the experience as a non US – resident.

Natalia ValenciaEven though medically I felt in the best hands, with great doctors, good nurses and hospitals and clinics, I have to tell you that when I arrived at the C4YW, it was such a shock to me that I (who only cried 2 times during my diagnosis, surgery and treatment) cried for like two hours. You see I constantly read how some of the survivors are “fed up” with October, or pink awareness, or words like struggle, fight, etc., but in my country, there is no talk about it, on a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it a 4. So when I got to the C4YW, there were support groups for women under 45, under 35, with kids, without them, depending on your ethnic group, on the type of breast cancer you had, on the stage, on everything, a support group for Sagittarians, a support group for left handed women (I´m not kidding…well I am, but it felt like they had them).  I felt so alone. I had already been through 17 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy with (I don’t know the term in English) but they took muscle from my back to cover the implants, and I was not able to take tamoxifen because I had reacted strangely to it. I was the only “young” one in the chemo rounds and apart from a friend which I never talk to, I didn’t know anything about the disease nor had any family member, or close friend who had suffered from any type of cancer, so I felt completely isolated.

The C4YW changed all of that. I gathered so much information, I am still rereading everything, there were talks about nutrition, tamoxifen, fear of recurrence, there was yoga, and a mountain if info, I still visit the websites, etc. When I came back from it, I decided I had been given too much to keep it to myself, so I found the NGO in which I am now a volunteer in, it is a great organization, and we do a lot of work, constantly developing new programs.

As for the C4YW, I keep in touch with some of the women I met there, and every piece of information coming from the conference I devour because there is not the same amount of info here. I just wanted to share with you, that it is better to be “overexposed” than not to have the same resources. I wish all of you Happy Holidays, and I hope next year will bring happiness and prosperity, and of course, health.

Natalia Valencia loveslife and learning,  She also wants to share that she loves her husband, cats, dog, family, friends, music, books, art, humor, ideas and the internet. Be sure to check back to the C4YW Blog for read more about her very specific viewpoint, as a young survivor from out of the country, and you can also check out her personal blog, here. You can find Natalia on Twitter at @natyblooming. 

Vallory Jones: Cancer, You’ve Got the Wrong Girl

As 2013 starts with new opportunities and adventures ahead, the C4YW Blog welcomes Vallory Jones as one of this year’s recurring writers. Be sure to  check back often, as Vallory offers us insight and experience about her diagnosis and life after celebrating her first Cancerversary.  Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent, and we are very excited that she will soon provide us with VLOG entries! (Video blog entries, to be exact!) Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

One evening, I emerged from my shower, ran both of my thumbs down the side of my body, and unknowingly landed on a suspicious lump.  It stopped me dead in my tracks. I sat down and inspected what felt like a BB—pressing it with my fingers and tracing around the hardened outline of its edges.

It was Friday evening, so waiting out the weekend to see my doctor seemed like agony.  By the time Monday rolled around, however, the urgency had faded.  I mean, what were the odds it was cancer, right?  Afterall, I don’t just work out.  I’m dedicated to fitness, and at age 40, I was in the best shape of my life.  I’d committed to a healthy lifestyle because I planned to live a long life, enjoying the adventurous and physically demanding activities I loved, well into my golden years.  No one around me expected me to get cancer, and most certainly not me.  While I wholeheartedly intended to get it checked out, with teaching, the gym, and my social activities, it landed at the bottom of my list.  I simply reminded myself, “I’m a fit, young woman.  I’ll do this when I have some time off.”

Prior to my lump, I either missed or dismissed the warning signs because I had no reason to suspect my body was fighting disease.  Yes, I had noticed my night owl curfew of around 1:00 am had inexplicably turned into I-can-barely-hold-my-eyes-open at 10:00 pm, but I chalked that up to the intensity of my weight training.  And yes, my clockwork periods now showed up whenever they felt like it, but even after detecting the lump, I never connected it.  I was a healthy, active, young woman—not a candidate for breast cancer.

Over a month later, after seeing another young woman, Giuliana Rancic, from E! Network, announce her diagnosis during Breast Cancer Awareness month, I finally made an appointment with my doctor.  When my physician felt the hardness, I could tell by her serious tone that this was not to be taken lightly.  The sense of urgency I felt during the first few moments of my discovery returned, and it saved my life.

She did not waste any time ordering a mammogram and ultrasound, and the following day I found myself in the imaging center.  The doctor reviewing my scans reassured me, “It doesn’t look alarming.  I believe it to be old debri.  I’m 99% sure it’s nothing to worry about, but since we can’t get a clear picture because of your dense breast tissue, we’ll biopsy it just to be safe.”

Waiting for those results was the longest weekend of my life.  The 99% the doctor spoke of echoed in my head, but by this time, I knew.  I don’t know how, but I just did.  Call it intuition.  Call it whatever you like.  I shared my suspicions with a few people, and after several of them told me that I had no possible way of already knowing this news, I dismissed myself as being silly.  With false confidence, I signed onto Facebook and posted, “The doctor says I will have my breast biopsy results in half an hour.”  I convinced myself, again, that it was nothing, and I fully expected to update that post later with, “False alarm, everyone!”  But just as I’d chalked it up to an overactive imagination, I got the call.

Vallory Jones“Vallory?”

“Oh, crap!” I thought.  My doctor was calling with the test results.

“Are you driving?”

My chest tightened.  I was actually backing out of my parking spot at work.  I put the brakes on and replied, “Not yet.”

“I’m afraid it’s not very good news.  You do have breast cancer.”

I don’t recall much else about that conversation other than thinking maybe I just didn’t hear her correctly. At the end of our call, I found myself asking, “So, wait, just to make sure I got this right, what you’re telling me is that I have cancer?”

“Yes,” she replied flatly.

As I sat in my car dumbfounded, I sobbed until my chest hurt.  The reality of what was ahead slapped me hard in the face that afternoon.  Thoughts raced through my head at warp speeds.  I just celebrated my 40th birthday.  I work out five times a week.  I do everything right!  Cancer, you’ve got the wrong girl!  It took me two days to wrestle with the news before I could go back on Facebook and tell everyone, but by that time, I’d formulated a game plan.  Yes, this might get me down—but not for long.  Goodbye cancer, and hello, Victorious Val!

I hope you’ll come back to the C4YW blog for the next part in my series.

Vallory is a breast cancer survivor, Zumba freak, and fitness fanatic.  She has taught middle school English for 19 years and enjoys mountain biking, singing, writing, and playing guitar.  She recently celebrated a milestone, her first Cancerversary. In fact, check out this charismatic and heartfelt video about celebrating this momentous day.

Lindsay Ruland: A Very Happy New Year

Today the C4YW Blog welcomes back, Lindsay Ruland, for the second installment of her monthly series! Check back often to read more into her journey. Here, Lindsay shares with us her feelings about living with breast cancer and celebrating the New Year. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

2012 was supposed to be my year. I had put my life on hold for years, previously, to focus on establishing my career and completing my bachelor’s degree. I never really felt as though I was able to enjoy my youth due to the numerous “adult” commitments to which I had already devoted my time. While everyone was out dancing or partying or going on fabulous vacations around the world, I was working two jobs, going to night school, and doing my best to hold down a mortgage. This year, I was looking forward to my college graduation as well as a promotion in the laboratory that would allow me more flexibility financially and personally. In April, however, my life hit a standstill, once again, when I was diagnosed with stage III invasive ductal carcinoma at the age of 26.

While my best friend was travelling to Germany, a dream we had weaved together for years, I was going through chemotherapy. While everyone I knew from high school was getting married or having babies, I was questioning whether or not anyone would ever love me enough after a mastectomy to marry me, and if I would even be capable of having a baby after chemo had potentially robbed me of my fertility. There would be no fabulous vacations abroad, new cars, wedding bells, or baby bottles for me this year.

While others seemed to be living fully, I felt isolated, alone, and trapped, sinking deeper and deeper into the throes of cancer treatment. I was angry – this was supposed to be my year, after all! Why did I have to endure yet another roadblock before I could be free to fully live my life? I found myself incredibly bitter and envious of others who were so careless and reckless with their lives, and didn’t appreciate their bodies or treat them with the proper respect. After all, they didn’t have cancer. I’d walked a very narrow and cautious line my entire life to avoid things of this nature, and somehow, it had happened to me anyway. After much reflection, I found myself growing and shaping into something much more than fabulous vacations, new cars, wedding bells, and baby bottles. Life had now presented to me a much grander opportunity to live more fully than any of those things could.

Lindsay Ruland

I learned more about myself than some could possibly learn in a lifetime in a matter of months. I came to love and respect myself more than I ever had previously, to allow myself to make mistakes and to give myself a break every now and then, instead of being such an up-and-at-‘em perfectionist. I found the good in the simplest gifts that each day brought, and was grateful for every morning that I woke up, kicked my legs over the side of the bed, and planted my feet into the floor. Despite all of the difficult things I have had to endure, I have never been more grateful for or happier with my life. Each day is a gift, and even though there may have been rough patches, I am happy to be alive every day. I don’t think I would have ever said that in the past, when I was too busy getting hung up on the go-go-go and the now-now-now of average everyday life. This cancer has changed me in many ways, and for much of it, I am grateful, as odd it may sound. You grow into a fuller human being with deeper realizations about the world and about life. So, while my peers were growing their careers or their families, I was growing myself.

In a way, 2012 was my year. It was not so much about achieving milestones in life as it was about simply living. When you are face-to-face with your own mortality, something many of us may not even put much thought into as younger adults, something changes inside of you. And while I have lost my breast, my hair, and possibly my fertility, what I have gained from this experience is far greater than any of those things. I am stronger. I am unstoppable.

My radiation treatments will come to an end on December 31, 2012, which marks the end of this very grueling year and my very grueling treatment. Despite all of the chaos, I managed to graduate college with magna cum laude honors, work full time throughout the entirety of my treatment, complete a new certification, get a promotion, and show breast cancer who is really in charge of this life. The fabulous vacations and new motorcycle are on their way. Now, I’ve just got to work out the wedding bells and babies. 2013 will be my very happy new year, and my very happy new me.

Lindsay Ruland is a 26-year-old survivor and a native of Baltimore, MD. She currently works as a histotechnician, and aspires to become an oncology nurse specializing in patient navigation and breast health education. It is her goal to raise awareness and to make resources and information more readily available for younger populations of women affected by breast cancer. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Lindsay, or follow her story on her blog: CANCERLAND

Mary Craige: Call it a Woman’s Intuition

This month, the C4YW Blog welcomes Mary Craige as one of our newest recurring writers. Be sure to  check back each month, as Mary has bravely decided to keep us up-to-date on her fertility planning and treatment after a breast cancer diagnosis at age 34.  Her strong voice and particular story is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

I always knew I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. Call it a woman’s intuition. Call it an insane hunch, but I always knew it was my fate. My mother was diagnosed at age 51 and my paternal grandmother lost her battle with the disease in her 70’s. But I never imagined I would be diagnosed with the disease at age 34, when my son was seven months old.

Unfortunately, some women hear the words, “you have breast cancer” and immediately think it’s a death sentence. When my surgeon delivered the news, my first thoughts and words were not the typical response. My reply was simply, “I can’t have breast cancer; I want to have another baby!” My surgeon, taken back by my reaction, immediately began talking about five years of Tamoxifen, chemotherapy and additional ‘options’, ignoring my response. I chalked that up to his inability to grasp where I was in life. I was a new mom with an infant at home. I had just returned to work from my maternity leave.  My son had just started sitting up. How could I have cancer?!  Driving home, I was still stuck on the notion of having another baby. This desire was a catalyst for many of the decisions I made over the next two months.

My husband and I immediately began researching our options to preserve our chances of having another baby. My medical oncologist told me that at my age and with my pathology, we needed to throw the ‘big guns’ at my cancer: six rounds of Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cytoxin (TAC), 34 rounds of radiation and five years of Tamoxifen. Chemotherapy gave me a 50/50 chance of becoming permanently infertile. This statistic scared me. As an only child, I always dreamed of having a big family and I didn’t want cancer to put an end to that dream. We decided to meet with a reproductive endocrinologist prior to beginning treatment to determine what our options were for fertility preservation.

My medical oncologist and reproductive endocrinology became a team and worked to determine a plan that would not jeopardize my health or treatment plan. We talked through options and decided to try and create as many embryos as possible, in only one cycle. We were very lucky; our medical team created multiple, viable embryos through one cycle of IVF. This limited my exposure to additional hormones and allowed me to start chemotherapy on schedule.

Two days after the egg retrieval procedure, I had my port placement surgery.  Three days after surgery, I had my first chemotherapy infusion. Life was moving too fast for me to fully appreciate the risks and dangers associated with a future pregnancy. At that point, my focus was on beating cancer and moving on with my life.

Almost three years later, I am ready to revisit my options for carrying another pregnancy. This decision is scary, exciting and risky. My cancer was estrogen receptor positive, had a high Nottingham score and a high Ki67 score. Layman’s speak for this pathology:  my cancer grew quickly and was trying to move beyond the breast. So while my desire for another child is still strong, my fear or recurrence and metastasis are always there, influencing my decisions.

For many, January is the month for ringing in the new and getting rid of the old. For me, it’s the month for my annual mammogram, blood work and breast MRI. But this time, I will also have a consultation with my reproductive endocrinologist to determine my fertility status and what my options are for another pregnancy. The anticipation of the annual scans and tests are always accompanied by a great deal of anxiety and stress. This year, I am strangely calm and at ease with this obligation. My anxiety now is due to what lies ahead, and what may or may not be possible.

Mary Craige

Mary Craige is a wife, mother, daughter, friend and breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2010 when her son was seven months old, Mary found blogging to be an outlet for her feelings about treatment, fertility challenges and survivorship. Since finishing treatment in 2010, she rode in two 200 mile Tour de Pink West Coast rides. The Tour de Pink helped her take her body back after treatment and proved that she could thrive after cancer. Mary currently works as a Content Marketing Manager for a large data company. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Mary, and head over to the C4YW site to check out the wonderful programming for this year’s event, as well as the great deals we’ve put together for airfare and hotel prices.

The Real Housewives of Chemotherapy

First introduced to us through the New York Times Health/Science: Well Blog in an article titled, “Life, Interrupted: Real Housewives of Chemotherapy,” today the C4YW blogisphere wants to share this awesome video! These Two young women diagnosed with cancer (Leukemia and Lymphoma) discuss the importance of camaraderie and friendship while in treatment. They smile, laugh and talk candidly together. They let us know what a blessing it was to have found each other. They share what it means to have someone their own age along for the ride.

Meet the “Real Housewives of Chemotherapy.”

If you’re looking to meet hundreds of strong, amazing, young women who want to laugh, chat and relate to you, be sure to register for C4YW now!

Lindsay Ruland: Friday the 13th

Today, we welcome Lindsay Ruland as she joins the ranks of our C4YW bloggers. Check back often to read more into her journey, as she discusses diagnosis at 25 and the trials and tribulations of treatment all while finishing school and working towards becoming an oncology nurse. Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

Friday the 13th. For most people, this is little more than a cheesy 80’s horror movie about a crazy dude in a hockey mask killing off campers at Crystal Lake. Or, a reminder to stay away from black cats and broken mirrors. For me, however, Friday the 13th took on a whole new meaning.

I’d always considered myself fairly unlucky. Bad things just seemed to follow me like a black cloud no matter how many good deeds I did to ward them off. As a result, I grew overly paranoid and superstitious, and proceeded to live a very cautious life. The long running joke in the laboratory where I worked was what medical ailment I’d be dying from each day during my shift. One day, my pancreas would be failing; the next, I would need my foot amputated because of a drug resistant, mutant rash. One day, the jokes stopped.

In December of 2011, at the age of 25, I found a lump in my right breast. It was no more than the size of a marble. Of course, the first thing I did was panic, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was the Big C.

“At your age, it’s so unlikely,” I was told, “keep an eye on it for a month and see if it goes away. It’s probably just a cyst.”

I waited and I watched and the New Year arrived. By January of 2012, the lump was still there. Not only was it still there, it had nearly doubled in size. It had grown so large, it could be seen through my skin. I forced my boyfriend to feel it, to tell me it had always been there, and that I was just being crazy, as usual. The look on his face and his silence as he felt the lump negated everything that I was secretly hoping to hear.

In February, I called one doctor’s office after another, doing my best to get a referral to be seen in the Breast Center at the hospital. I was shut down each time by each receptionist, no matter how much I pleaded my case. Who knew it would be so difficult to find a slot to be seen for a good fifteen minutes? I would just lay all my chips out on the table:

“But, I’m an employee here. I’m 25. I have a lump in my breast!” Only to hear in return, “We don’t have anything available until April or May” or “we aren’t taking new patients right now” or “voicemail.”

After hearing this for the seventh or eighth time, I broke down into tears and nearly gave up trying to be seen. At this point, the skin around my right nipple had puckered and inverted. It looked almost as though it had sunken into itself. I called one more office that was totally unaffiliated with my hospital and got an appointment with a doctor within two weeks. My 26th birthday came in March, and so did my meeting with the doctor.

“It’s probably just a cyst,” she said, “but I want you to get it checked, just to be sure. I’m going to write you a [prescription] for an ultrasound and a mammogram.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. The doctor thinks it’s just a cyst, so it can’t be cancer, I’m too much of a health freak for it to be cancer, I’m fine, I thought.

In April, I sat in the waiting room of the Women’s Imaging Center, surrounded by women who were all at least double my age. They came and went from within the examination room within five minutes. I must have been sitting out there for over an hour in that ugly pink gown that could easily swallow three of me. Finally, they called me back to that cold little room. It didn’t look good. They needed me to come back the next day for a biopsy.

I’m too young for this. I have no family history. I don’t drink or smoke or even consume caffeine. I’m a vegan. I exercise daily. I never get sick! I thought, sobbing angrily.

Because I work in the histopathology lab, my biopsy got VIP rush treatment. I saw my specimen come off the tissue processor. I saw my supervisor cut it. I also saw when she had to go back and cut it again, to run ER/PR testing on it. That’s when I realized that I had cancer. And this time, it was real. I sobbed as I scraped paraffin off of the floor, doing my best to finish my shift before meeting with the breast surgeon, who confirmed what I already knew.

Friday the 13th.

It was the luckiest day of my life, because I am still here to talk about it.

Lindsay Ruland is a 26-year-old survivor and a native of Baltimore, MD. She currently works as a histotechnician, and aspires to become an oncology nurse specializing in patient navigation and breast health education. It is her goal to raise awareness and to make resources and information more readily available for younger populations of women affected by breast cancer. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Lindsay, or follow her story on her blog: CANCERLAND

Sarita Jordan: C4YW, A Place Where I Am Not Alone

This post was originally featured on the LBBC Blog on February 9th, 2011. Here, LBBC volunteer Sarita Jordan shares how she found strength and purpose through C4YW, even through some extraordinary circumstances.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September of 2005. I was 36 years old. Breast cancer was an event in my life that I had no idea was coming. I didn’t have history in my family. I knew nothing about the disease. I was aware of monthly self-breast exams, but that’s about it. When I was first diagnosed, I was told “it probably isn’t breast cancer because of your age.” I am currently a 5-year breast cancer survivor, and counting…

After such an ordeal, it had become apparent that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping other women cope with a breast cancer diagnosis and all the unpleasant episodes that come along with it. When I was in treatment I looked for any and every kind of help because I didn’t really have a strong support system. I developed a relationship with the oncology social worker at my hospital. I later learned about Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) and the Conference For Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer (C4YW) — finally, a venue where I could express age-appropriate concerns. Because I was 36 at the time, this was great!

As a result of the effort to make it to my first conference in 2007, every year I look forward to this event and the source of help available to me. I will never forget the first conference that was held in Arlington,VA. I am a parent of 4 children, one of which I became pregnant with after breast cancer treatment.

C4yw, annual conference for young women affected by breast cancer, YSC, LBBC, orlando, florida

Pregnant, bald and excited, I drove in a snow storm because I was determined to be at this conference. The conference in Jacksonville, Fl., had a workshop about fertility issues that young women affected by breast cancer face. The wonderful speaker described her diagnosis at a young age and how she considered maximizing her chances of future pregnancy, knowing the risk breast cancer treatment had on the ability to conceive. Although my story was slightly different from hers, I was able to offer my experience, which was a sense of hope to some of the other women that were present in this particular workshop.

Attending C4YW keeps me up-to-date with the latest treatments, workplace protocol and rights, medical research, healthcare reform news, etc. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I look forward to meeting up with friends that I met from other states over the last 5 years since I’ve been attending the conference. More importantly, though, I look forward to volunteering and sharing my story, in the hopes that it would encourage someone else. Last but not least, the group photo! The photo is especially important to me because as we all gather — all races, creeds and colors — I am reminded that I am not alone.

Although there are some friends that I have lost to this disease, I don’t get discouraged. This too reminds me that life is precious and we have to just live, love and laugh. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone.

Thanks LBBC and YSC for such an event. This experience compares to no other.

This year’s Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer (C4YW) is being held Friday, February 22 – Sunday, February 24, 2013 in Seattle.  If you, like Sarita, are looking for a network of women who share your similar concerns as a young women affected by breast cancer, C4YW may be a good place to start.

Welcome to the C4YW Blog!

Hello, and welcome to the new and improved C4YW blog! This is forum for discussion, exploration and discovery about what the Annual Conference for Young Women has meant to you during your diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. At C4YW, we like to emphasize the camaraderie and connection that attendees experience while also receiving the most up-to-date health and wellness information.

Here on the blog, we’d like to hear from YOU! Firsthand stories that come from the heart are what C4YW is all about. Also, we’ll be featuring entries from our 2013 presenter line up, so that women interested in attending can get a sneak-peek at the plethora of information available at this 3-day event.

While we line up the new entries to begin filling this space, please enjoy reading some of the C4YW-inspired entries that made their way on to the LBBC Blog.

Happy Blogging,

Rachel, your faithful “Blog Steward.”