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Advanced Medicine and Loving Support Help 35-Year-Old Woman with Breast Cancer

Elizabeth

April 2005 — With a radiant smile and confident tone, Elizabeth shares, "I had breast cancer."

For this 35-year-old woman whose journey with breast cancer has taken her through mastectomy, chemotherapy and now, radiation, this is not just a statement — it's a declaration. Upon receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer, she, like most women, was devastated and wondered, "Why me?" But with the same positive attitude that she approaches everything, Elizabeth quickly armed herself with education, the support of her loving boyfriend and friends, and the most advanced medical treatment available.

A Diagnosis of Cancer

On February 11, 2004, Elizabeth told her gynecologist that she was feeling some pain under her arm. Because she was physically active, Elizabeth wasn't especially worried, figuring it was just a "workout ache." However, her physician was concerned. After undergoing a comprehensive series of tests that included a mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, MRI and bone scan, Elizabeth received the diagnosis: breast cancer. Seven of her lymph nodes were affected, and she had a 2-centimeter tumor under her arm and a .5-centimeter tumor in her breast. "The first 24 hours were awful," says Elizabeth. "However, once I came to terms with the diagnosis on my own, I was able to talk it through with my boyfriend."

The next month, Elizabeth underwent a full mastectomy on her right breast. Four months of chemotherapy soon followed. "Losing my hair wasn't a big deal," says Elizabeth. "My dogs would nuzzle my head and my boyfriend would kiss it, calling me 'Yoda.'" Plus, Elizabeth was fortunate that the support drugs she was prescribed kept her from feeling nauseated. "I never looked sick during chemotherapy," she says. "I traveled, went to a couple of weddings, and continued my work as a real estate agent in South Beach."

In addition, Elizabeth is grateful for her boyfriend, who is quick to hug her or hold her hand when things get scary. She says that their lives, in spite of cancer, remain amazingly normal, thanks to the great rapport they have with each other. Also, Elizabeth credits her boyfriend's daily affirmations with helping her to feel "whole and feminine" even after her mastectomy.

With the same thoroughness that she's handled every aspect of her treatment, Elizabeth interviewed six medical oncologists before she selected Sandra Franco, MD, medical oncologist and Co-Director of Memorial Breast Cancer Center at Memorial Cancer Institute. "Dr. Franco, like so many of the doctors I've worked with, is amazing," says Elizabeth. "She completed my chemotherapy and is now working with me to ensure I remain cancer-free."

"Elizabeth will need to be monitored for the rest of her life by a medical oncologist," says Dr. Franco. "She is a very educated patient who took charge of her situation and made smart choices. She is her own advocate, which is very important."

Younger Women and Cancer

When Elizabeth tells people she had cancer, they often respond with, "You're so young!" But the fact is, breast cancer knows no boundaries and is becoming more prevalent in younger women. The 2000 U.S. Census estimates that 250,000 women under the age of 40 are living with breast cancer.

Elizabeth, whose mother died of breast cancer at the age of 49, underwent genetic testing to determine if she carried cancer genes. She did not. In addition, she lived what she calls the "anti-cancer lifestyle" — plenty of exercise, a sound diet and regular checkups.

Yet, breast cancer still struck. "You can be angry and depressed, or you can surround yourself with loving, caring people," says Elizabeth. She also has some advice about taking the fear out of cancer. "It's important to be true to yourself, to listen to your instincts and to learn as much as you can about what is happening to you."

Today, with a smile that could light up a room, Elizabeth says she feels at peace that "everything will be OK."

If you are concerned about your risk for breast cancer and would like a referral to a physician, call Memorial Physician Referral Service toll-free at (800) 944-DOCS. We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.