Three Words Change Everything

By on June 24th, 2015 Categories: The Breast Cancer Journey

Editor’s note: The following post was originally published on the Just Three Words site in May 2014.

When I graduated college I was excited to be starting the next chapter of my life. I was sure that by the next year I would have found a cool job, possibly in a new city, and enjoying establishing myself as an adult. I could never have imagined that 365 days later I would be picking out my wig for my imminent baldness, not to mention not only unemployed but actually unable to work at all. I could never have imagined that I would already have undergone a major surgery, and I could never have imagined that just as I was figuring my life out, I would have to put it on hold. Like many times in life, things rarely turn out how you plan.

I’ve always felt my life was a crazy juxtaposition of events, and [my breast cancer diagnosis] has been no exception. While I was in the middle of countless doctor appointments and determining a treatment plan, I also was starting to hear back from graduate programs that I had applied to. I had spent months thinking about and preparing to apply to graduate school. When I was diagnosed, one of the most disappointing parts was thinking that after all that work, I may not get to start. Mere days before I had my mastectomy, I found out that I was accepted to my top choice program. Even though this meant I had to defer, it reminded me that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.

When you have cancer, any cancer, in your early 20s, you quickly realize just how rare it really is. The most commonly used statistic for breast cancer is that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. Unfortunately I don’t fit very well into that figure because at 23, my risk of breast cancer was about 1 in 10,000. This means that there are very few resources for those lucky few who find themselves in this situation. While there are a number of blogs and support groups for young women with breast cancer, I’m still a minority. Women who are even a few years older are very likely well established in their careers, married, and may even have children already. While that is still extremely young to be diagnosed, I still find it hard to relate, and I want this blog to be a resource for people who are trying to figure out the wonderful world of oncology at the same time as their own lives!

I’m a little late to the blogging party starting this now since I’ve already started treatment. But since I’ll have plenty of time, I’ll slowly catch everyone up on the treatments I’ve already had. I’ll fill ya in on how I found it, the barrage of appointments I had, surgery and recovery and such.

 “Unfortunately, it’s cancer.”

It was these three words that changed my life forever. Unlike most people my age who get diagnosed with cancer, the story of how I found it is pretty short and simple. I’m pretty much the perfect example of doctors taking all the right precautions and why you should never wait to go to the doctor. If something just isn’t right, get it checked out!

It all started back on a January night when I was driving home from the gym. I noticed pain where the seatbelt laid across the right side of my chest. I probably didn’t notice right away because during the winter you wear a ton of heavy sweaters, coats, and scarves, but since I was coming home from the gym (a rare occurrence, trust me) I just had a t-shirt and fleece jacket. I will eventually learn that it’s pretty unusual to have pain as a result of a lump, but that this is most likely the result of the location of my tumor being near all the nerve endings. Within a week of first noticing pain, I also noticed a sizable lump in my right breast as well as minor bleeding (another somewhat unusual symptom). After noticing all three symptoms, I waited another 1-2 weeks to see if anything would change. When it didn’t, I knew something wasn’t right and went to the doctor.

My doctor quickly looked at it and thought it was infection and prescribed me an antibiotic, since that could explain the lump and bleeding. However, I was also sent for an ultrasound just to be sure. The radiologist who read the ultrasound recommended a biopsy, and my doctor agreed. I remember being really annoyed by this, since I was sure it was nothing. Reluctantly, I went in for the biopsy, feeling like it was a waste of time. While I was anxious the next few days, I kept thinking it was nothing. I had no family history and had convinced myself that the lump had actually shrunk some while on the antibiotic. At 23, fibroadenomas, totally benign tumors, are much more common. I was supposed to hear after two days, but because of a huge snowstorm, the lab was behind. I got the call on February 14, 2014. I thought my biggest problem on Valentine’s Day would be being single. “Unfortunately, it’s cancer,” the doctor told me. I could tell she was almost as shocked as I was. She told me a bunch of stuff, none of which I remember, and gave me the names of a couple of doctors. In complete disbelief, I walked downstairs and told my mom, “So apparently I have breast cancer.” I told her the little I could remember from what the doctor told me, and gave her the numbers. Since I was pretty much catatonic and spent the rest of the day sitting on the couch, crying, and staring into space, my mom called trying to set up appointments. And so began my journey in the world of oncology.

Diagnosed with breast cancer at 23, Kalli tried to find resources for young breast cancer survivors. After becoming frustrated when she found it difficult to relate to a lot of what already existed, she started her blog Just Three Words so no other young woman would have to feel like that. She quickly realized how therapeutic it is, so now has no plans of stopping! Kalli has now completed treatment and is a graduate student studying international affairs in Washington, D.C. Follow her blog and her journey through cancer survivorship as a young adult!

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