A 33 Year Old's Breast Cancer Journey.....

A 33 Year Old's Breast Cancer Journey.....

33 years old. Just living my life. You know what its like with kids, it’s beautiful and chaotic all at once.

It had been a few months, that feeling. That sore feeling in my left breast, almost like a bruise, when the kids hugged me they were at the right height to bump it. 

Ouch, I thought. But you know, life is just too busy to worry about that. I’m sure it’s just the repeated head bumping from hugging my kids so much. 

I’ve always been one to worry about niggles but this I completely disregarded, that is, until mentioning it with my friends they said, why aren’t you getting that checked?

 

So I booked myself a doctors appointment explaining I had breast pain but no lump. 

Why we think it’s not important, I will not know. I suppose as mums we put ourselves last most of the time don’t we….

And then came the appointment with a lovely Dr who I had not seen before. She was kind and reassured me that we will work out what is going on.

Funnily enough she felt a lump, I still couldn’t. But she referred me for an ultrasound. I’d never had any breast checks in my life, I mean at 33 its the last thing on my mind. Breast checks and mammograms are for the over 60’s right? Wrong!

 

I took myself to the ultrasound appointment the following Monday. The ladies were welcoming and I got organised to see the ultrasound tech.

Lying on the bed as the lady chatted and checked the screen, it all felt quite relaxed. 

I knew I might possibly need a fine needle biopsy to have a better look, but then she said, I see calcification , you will need a mammogram. Well, I didn’t expect that, but agreed thinking it would be booked for another day. No, you will need to have it today and then we will do the fine needle biopsy she told me.

 

I still thought to myself, well ok, it’s just double checking. They are being thorough. My boob was put in the mammogram machine and pushed and pulled and squashed, uncomfortable maybe but not painful.

Then back to the room for the ultrasound guided fine needle biopsy. After that was done I headed to my car to drive home, but of course just remembering she said she saw calcifications, I googled. 

Im sure you google symptoms too, it’s just one of those things we do when we don’t understand the symptoms or the medical lingo.

Calcifications, according to google are more common in women over 50. They can mean it’s cancer, not cancer or just be nothing. Well that wasn’t helpful. I was so confused by this information I spent the hour drive home, tears streaming down my face. Listening to Odette sing Magnolia on the car stereo. Listening to that song now still brings back those memories of the unknown, of helplessness.

 

My lovely Dr called me the next day, urging me to come in. To go over the results. I went in that day, and she informed me the samples were inconclusive, and she referred me to a surgical oncologist for a bigger sample to be taken. She called and booked me in, my head was spinning. Ok, but this could come back all good still.

 

The clinic called me the next day and offered me to come in to have the biopsy that afternoon, the surgical oncologist wanted to get the sample before the Easter long weekend.

My husband came home from work to come with me. It was a warm day, and when we were waiting I remember my legs sticking to the plastic seats in the waiting room. My husband was cracking some jokes trying to keep the mood light.

They called me through and I had three core biopsies taken, its almost like a hole punch, they push onto your skin and click the button. I had to be monitored afterwards to make sure I didn’t have any excessive bleeding. I was sent home with the instructions to not lift anything heavy for a week. And that I would most likely hear the results the following day.

 

We had plans with friends from out of town. We caught up for drinks at a local taphouse. But I couldn’t engage in conversations with them very well, knowing that I could receive a phone call at any moment, then, at 6:30 pm I got that call….

 

I headed outside to talk to the medical oncologist, he told me that the core biopsy came back as cancer cells, as DCIS, which is ductal carcinoma in situ. Meaning the cancer is in the milk ducts and looks like it is contained, but because there was a lot of DCIS he informed me I would need to remove at least my left breast. The phone conversation seemed like a blur. Was I hearing this right? He told me his clinic would be in contact the next week to organise an appointment with him. I went back inside to my family and our friends, holding back tears.

I took hubby outside, I said its cancer, I will need to have one breast removed. I don’t remember much more of that night.

 

Trying to keep it together over the easter weekend, especially for the kids was hard. I felt like a zombie. Had the cancer spread? Was I going to die? How would my family be without me? 

It’s hard facing your mortality at 33. This should be the best years of our lives. 

 

Man, the wait was hard. 

 

But upon seeing the oncologist I said, take them both. I don’t want any chance of this disease to return to f*ck up my life anymore.

I had finished having kids, my breasts were not needed, but I did however ask that I do reconstruction, I wasn’t ready to be flat. Not at 33. 

 

I had a small day procedure a month later to remove my sentinel lymph nodes, this was going to tell us if the cancer had escaped the ducts and determine my treatment.

Good news, no cancer in the lymph nodes, they are clear, the Dr said. Wow, what a relief!

No chemotherapy needed for my treatment, just the bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. And i'll be on my merry way….

 

In the lead up to my mastectomy surgery my emotions were up and down, but mostly I was annoyed, annoyed this happened to me. I’m too young for this. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my breasts, that had fed my 3 beautiful children.

 

I went in to surgery the day before my 34th birthday, 3rd July 2019. I woke up with bad side affects from the anaesthetic, low blood pressure and I couldn’t sit up without vomiting for the next 24 hrs, yup I spent my birthday with nausea, pain and vomiting. Happy birthday to me …

 

I had expanders placed under my pectoral muscles to start the reconstruction process. These are basically empty implants that get filled with saline to expand the skin and muscle and make a pocket for implants. Oh yeah, I forgot to add they removed my nipples too. I spent a week in hospital before heading home to recover.

 

We waited for pathology results, they returned with some not good news.

Originally they thought it was just DCIS, all contained within the ducts, but no. The cancer had broken out of some of the ducts and had become invasive. 8 lots of invasive cancer was found within the breast tissue. I couldn’t believe it! I had a total of 10 cm of cancer in my left breast. Yep, you read that right, 10cm of cancer, all without feeling a lump.

Close margins meant I needed to have 5 weeks of daily radiation, just to be sure nothing was left behind. And here I was thinking it would be smooth sailing after surgery. How wrong I was.

 

My breast reconstruction was put on hold until after the radiation. It was disappointing to hear that but at the same time I really wanted to make sure all my bases were covered to get rid of this shitty disease. It was daily appointments, 5 days a week for 5 weeks. The hospital was an hour away, and my lovely friends and family took turns driving me there due to the intense fatigue I had. I likened the fatigue to that 3pm wall you hit after a big night out, but constant. Yeah, not fun. I got through the days, but it was a lot, both physically and mentally.

 

I continued with my expanders being filled with saline, trying to fill them up to a size I was comfortable with. Many people joked about being able to chose my size, this was totally not the case and I understand they were just trying to make me laugh, but I would have preferred my original breasts over these misshapen uncomfortable expanders. They really were the pits. I hope I never have to have expanders ever again.

 

The radiation had done damage to my skin and stopped me from expanding to the full expander size. I spent a few months with the expanders before having them taken out and replaced with silicone implants. 

My surgeon said the radiation had tightened everything up and that she had to almost score the inside of my skin like a mango so it could fit the implant in. Yeah that sounds lovely doesn’t it. 

 

Fast forward 8 weeks post op, my radiated side was purple and shiny and had a couple of sores that wouldn’t heal. Not ideal. I was trying to be real careful with myself, getting the kids to do household jobs for me until I accidentally knocked one and a yellowy fluid came out, oh no I thought, this is not good! And that’s putting it politely I think I said a few curse words and freaked out.

I emailed my breast care nurse who booked me an appointment with my plastic surgeon, she looked and said, your skin is far too damaged, its too thin, these sores won’t heal and your skin will start breaking down. We need to replace the skin with skin from elsewhere. 

I just said ok, do what you need. Her suggestion was a surgery called latimus dorsi flap. This was where they take your lat dorsi muscle and skin from your back and tunnel it through a channel under your armpit and replace the damaged skin on your chest with the muscle/skin flap.

I had this 10 days after seeing her, the surgery was an urgent surgery and needed to be done before the damaged skin got worse. 

 

Upon waking from the surgery I wasn’t as sick as the mastectomy surgery I had the year before. The pain though, holy moly. When the pain killers were wearing off it was an intense burning like someone had a lighter to my back. I spent 5 days in hospital, 6 weeks no driving and 6 months of recovery, gaining back my range of movement in my arm. Thankfully it was my left arm and I'm right handed. But it took me a long time to recover, and even now I have lost strength on that side, constant pain and have issues from radiation. I would do it all over again though, to make sure the cancer is gone.

 

Almost a year on I had the right side operated on and had the lat flap done to even the reconstruction as my right side had developed capsular contracture and was tightening around the implant. This was done in May 2021. So not too long ago, and I'm in the midst of recovery once again. And getting back into work, finally.

 

In between all of this I have suffered massive anxiety attacks, what I think is PTSD and the fear of the cancer returning. All whilst being a mum and a wife, and trying to keep up with life.

 

I know this seems like a lot, and it is. It's been a whole freaking journey. It’s not over yet, another 3 years of medication to stop any rogue cells from growing. It gives me menopausal symptoms…at 36 I feel like I'm 70 some days.

 

I am a big advocate for checking yourself, being body aware, knowing if something doesn’t feel right. Breast cancer has impacted me more than what I’ve written here. Sometimes I just don’t have the words to explain.

 

If you think you’re too young or too healthy for breast cancer…think again. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t care if you drink smoothies every day and hit the gym 5 times a week. It doesn’t care if you eat chocolate everyday.

 

It affects your mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, even men too. 

 

If I can ask one thing, please, please make sure you check. There are loads of informational websites on how to do a breast examination.

And see your GP. Advocate for yourself. Breast cancer is scary, but there is so many services available to help.

 

It’s breast cancer awareness month…be aware, then act. 


1 comment


  • Heather Burns

    Wow Amy. Brilliantly written. So necessary to share what you have been through. Thank you for sharing and wishing you love and support for the ongoing journey.


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