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I would advise any woman going through treatment to find ways to ask for help. Speak up and don't be worried it will look like weakness. Be your own advocate - you know your body and it's important to recognize how you are feeling physically and emotionally and make it known when something doesn't feel right. Practically, I did this by keeping a journal (not a touchy-feely kind, lol) so that I was acutely aware of any symptoms and questions that I had on a daily basis. This allowed me to also exert some sense of control on my situation and keep all the information that was being thrown at me in order. I also had a few people when I was diagnosed offer to put me in touch with other young women they knew who had been through this, and I picked one and spoke with her before starting treatment. Having a "guide" and someone who can relate to the specifics and "get it" was helpful. I have since been and continue to be that person for a number of other women diagnosed.
In March of 2018, two months before my wedding, at the age of 29, I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma, an aggressive form of breast cancer. I had been so preoccupied with eating my greens and working out every day to prep for my big day that I nearly missed the gynecologist appointment that saved my life. Because I did not have children yet, I was strongly encouraged to freeze eggs through IVF. Following this process, I pushed through 12 tough rounds of chemo, had surgery and then did 20 rounds of radiation. I’ve always loved running and I tried running during chemo but that became very difficult and so I resorted to going for long walks until that became too challenging as well. During a particularly rough round of chemo, I said to my younger sister, “when this is all over, I want to do something crazy like run the NYC Marathon and raise a ton of money for MSK” (the hospital I received my treatment). I had run plenty of half marathons but never a full one and while it was always on my bucket list, I never imagined actually doing it. This bucket list idea turned into a realistic dream carried me through my next 4 months of treatment and surgery. On October 30th, 2018, I rang the bell at radiation, signaling I was finally finished. Over the next year, I trained and ran the NYC marathon, started my dream job at NYU, and rescheduled and went on my honeymoon with my husband to Dubai, South Africa and the Seychelles.
I was definitely scared and a bit angry but I tried my hardest throughout to stay positive and push through. Whenever I had to tell a family member or friend of my diagnosis, I always followed it up with: “but I’ll be fine, I have too much to do to let this ruin my plans.” That level of positivity definitely became challenging when I could no longer recognize myself when I looked in the mirror or felt awful but luckily, I have an amazing support system who were able to stay positive for me whenever things got dark.
My family (two sisters, 1 month old niece at the time, parents, aunts), my amazing husband and my friends all really carried me through. They constantly checked in and sent me food or would come over and watch hours of television with me. My friends had set up events each month so that I always had something to look forward to (like a private yoga class and bringing over puppies from a shelter).
The other thing that got me through was my dream of being able to run the marathon. Nearly 1 year to the day that I finished treatment, my younger sister, Sophia, and I ran for Fred’s Team and raised over $14,000. Despite our vast differences in speed (Soph is much faster than me), Sophia ran all 26 miles by my side hyping me up the whole time.
44 years old.
After a difficult year and the help of some treasured family and friends, I can now proudly say that my overwhelming fear has evolved into hope and recovery. Looking back, had it not been for all the Breast Cancer Awareness messages last October convincing me to get checked out, I’m not sure I would be where I am today.