The Hard Truth About Young Women Facing Breast Cancer

My doctor once told me that if you're old enough to fight for your country, then you're old enough to get breast cancer.

It’s been an unimaginable few weeks for our triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) community. Too many of our thriver sisters took their last breath, and many of us are balancing the emotions of being heartbroken, furious and grateful to be alive.

These women were in their 20s and 30s. They were moms, wives, daughters, friends and advocates. They contributed to our community with an incredible amount of vulnerability, honesty and love. TNBC is a beast, and our stage 4 thrivers need more — more research, more solutions, more years with their kids, more kisses and more life. We will continue to fight for more of these things.

Control What You Can

As I faced TNBC at 28, I quickly learned the importance of being my own advocate and controlling what I could. These principles can help you face your current obstacle and shift your thoughts for a strong, positive mindset.

Another mantra that I’ve held close to my heart throughout treatment and survivorship has been survivre. This word is French for “survive,” but when you break it down into its root words, it reads “on to live.” On to live. Forward motion. Onward. As we face the news of diagnoses and deaths, it is important to release and feel your feelings and then control what you can — onward.

When I think of my thriver sisters, I cling to that mantra more than ever. I can carry their light, their wisdom and their vulnerability forward and use it as the fuel that sets a blazing fire to raise awareness that young women are dying from this terrible disease. These young women deserve more, and we need to keep sharing their stories to bring about change.

Conversations About Breast Health in Young Women

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the need to change the conversation and more broadly talk about breast health in young women. While the percentage of young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer is small, survival rates are worse compared to those of older women. Education and awareness can save lives.

The response was powerful.

Fellow young adult survivors reached out who were disappointed and angry that they weren’t educated beforehand. Other survivors and caregivers wanted to spread awareness. Some felt failed by medical professionals who advised they were “too young,” and some asked what to do next. My response: continue to share your story and the stories of others. Continue to raise awareness by raising hell.

“Young Women Get Breast Cancer Too”

One remarkable conversation that stemmed from my post was with Missy Peters, the founder and executive director of Young Breast Cancer Project (YBCP). While pregnant at the age of 34, she faced her own delayed diagnosis. Though the lump in her breast was found the week she found out she was pregnant, Missy’s primary care physician, obstetrician-gynecologist and radiologist did not see any cause for concern – even after an ultrasound. Missy was later diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma later on in her pregnancy. She gave birth four days later.

She turned to her passion for photography during treatment to capture other AYA (adolescent and young adult) breast cancer thrivers through compelling images and storytelling. She intuitively felt the need to raise awareness, and her Breast Cancer Portrait Project featured 100 diagnosis stories of AYA breast cancer. She shared with me a few exceptional stories of sisters who are no longer with us. These stories and experiences continue to fuel her fire onward.

Missy’s efforts led to community-based research to quantify what many young survivors were feeling. After she and Steph Tubman polled 455 AYA survivors in the United States, their results found:

  • 36% faced delay in diagnosis
  • 70% made extra efforts after detecting an abnormality
  • 62% say that a physician never educated them on breast health prior to diagnosis

The findings? Women under 40 face a significant delay in diagnosis contributed by both patient and medical provider perceptions. Breast health education matters – especially for young women.

Women Who Are Old Enough to Fight For Their Country…

My oncologist and I also discussed this topic at a recent follow-up appointment. She said two things that struck me:

  • I always say, ''Women who are old enough to fight for their country are old enough to get breast cancer.”
  • We really need more research for TNBC. Especially stage 4.

While the first point may sound oddly specific, as a military-spouse, I’ve been treated on a military base. (Though this isn’t the case for all military-affiliated patients.) It was refreshing to hear that she shares this message to a wider audience as a military leader and medical professional. Because let’s face it, the conversation and reminders need to happen.

When it came to point number two, my heart sank as it hit so close to home. We’ve talked about TNBC being a beast before. I’ve read about the terrible percentages, and I’ve learned from my own advocacy work that research is desperately needed. But again, it felt refreshing to hear a medical professional acknowledging the need for more, too.

Continuing the Conversation

As we look onward, I continue the conversation. I share our stories along with this hard truth. To our future sisters, you are not alone. I will continue to fight with hope in my heart for brighter tomorrows. I remember, honor, hope, breathe, be, love, survivre and vow to continue to fight like hell.

This post is dedicated to Heidi, Megan, Mary Alyce and every thriver who we continue the conversation for.

To learn more about Lorelei Colbert and her journey with TNBC, visit www.LoreleiColbert.com or connect on Instagram.

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