Twenty-Three with Cancer
This is a shocking and terrific essay from Huff Post by Stacy Leung who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the ripe old age of 23. Over my years in the business, I have known a few women in their 20s with breast cancer, and I knew one woman who was diagnosed when she was a junior in college. Very thankfully, these are rare situations, but they happen. The thinking used to be that young women had more aggressive cancers, but this seems to have changed. The current belief is that, stage for stage, characteristic for characteristic, their cancers carry the same prognosis as those in older women; a difference can be that younger women are often diagnosed with cancer types that are known to be more difficult.
This essay beautifully expresses the experience of one young woman and concludes with some good suggestions for others. Here is the start and then a link to read more:
What A 23 Year Old Learned From Surviving Breast Cancer
The first thing I did when I got the news was drink a blueberry Slurpee.
My coworker Tim, who found me that Monday morning, red-eyed, sitting in an empty office at our financial firm, assumed I'd had a bad weekend. Maybe a fight with my boyfriend. In fact, moments before, I'd gotten the results from a biopsy of the lump in my left breast:
cancer. When I told Tim, he barely said a word. The news, so raw, hung there between us until he broke the silence: "Do you want to get Slurpees?"
I did. Because going for Slurpees felt normal. It was our answer to botched assignments, long meetings and generally crummy days -- all the things that, until now, had seemed as bad as it could get. I was 23 years old. I was used to worrying about which senior managers I should suck up to, which shoes I should buy, who my intramural rugby team was up against next. And on that cool day in April, as we sat on the curb outside 7-Eleven in Baltimore, I wanted to hold on to that life -- a life suddenly made spectacular by just how unexciting it was.
When my boyfriend, Josh, had first felt the lump, I assumed it would go away on its own, like all the other lumps, bumps and bruises before it. I'd actually waited three months to tell my doctor -- and I probably would have waited longer if I hadn't needed to see her for what I thought was a more pressing concern: seasonal allergies. My doctor seemed as unconcerned about the lump as I was, but she referred me to a radiologist anyway.
It turned out to be aggressive stage II cancer. The tumor (all 2.8 centimeters of it) was removed, and I gave myself over to the care of my parents and Josh. While my friends were out day-drinking their weekends away, planning trips to the beach and meeting at the mall, I stayed home. I was so wiped out by the chemo that I could barely fold a T-shirt.
And then, after a few rounds of radiation, the cancer was gone. I would live. I would get to keep my life, but what life? For the past year, I had been talking to my boss about transferring to our company's new office in Shanghai. That was out. The national tournament for my club basketball team was coming up in less than a month. I wouldn't play. I had gone from freaking out about missing a single birth control pill to asking my boyfriend of seven years if he wanted to fertilize my eggs. (The chemo, I'd learned, could send me into early menopause.) My fertility doctor gently urged me to save some unfertilized eggs in case things didn't work out with Josh; I didn't have to
decide right then if he was the man I was going to have kids with. My panic was the cancer talking, as it bombarded me with life choices I wasn't really ready to make.