A Young Diagnosis – Natalie W.’s Story

We know of the statistic, “1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime,” but we often don’t think that could happen to women who are young. Women aren’t advised to get mammograms until age 40, so what happens when you feel a lump in your breast before then? It’s important to be your own best advocate, and that’s exactly what 24-year-old Natalie W. did. 

What is your connection to breast cancer? 

I like to call myself a “live-r.” I am currently living with metastatic breast cancer.  

What is your story? 

In Spring of 2021, I felt a lump in my breast while I was showering but I did not think anything of it at the time; some women just have lumpy breasts. Finally, after some more noticeable changes to the area and my intuition that something was seriously wrong, I decided to get the lump looked at by my primary care physician. Two days later I had an ultrasound, a mammogram and emergency biopsy that afternoon. A week later, in November of 2021, at 24 years old, I was diagnosed with stage II HER2+ invasive ductal carcinoma. Body scans a week later showed a few spots of concern on my bones, further progression than anyone had hoped for, and thus, metastatic breast cancer. Since my diagnosis, I have completed six rounds of chemotherapy, had a total mastectomy, 33 rounds of radiation, and continue to get infusions of Herceptin and Zometa.  

Why did you sign up for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day? 

I actually signed up because I love to walk and challenge myself, not knowing it would turn into an unforgettable experience with my mom and best friends.  

Why do you think early detection is important? 

Early detection saved my life. Early detection means earlier treatment and that is so crucial when dealing with cancer. We need more awareness for young women to check themselves monthly. A mammogram when you’re 40 should not be the first time you take action.  

What advice would you give to other young women going through a breast cancer diagnosis or treatment? 

Some days will suck, and you’ll want to lie in bed and cry and scream, “why me?” and you should give yourself that grace and allow that. However, life moves fast and if you’re able to go out and enjoy it, you shouldn’t let your diagnosis hold you back from living. Believe me, this is no fun and no walk in the park, but if you try to treat your life as normally as possible, it really helps distract you from the obvious.  

Anything else you’d like to add? 

Trust your intuition and your gut. We know our bodies better than anyone. If you think something is wrong, speak up and advocate for yourself and don’t stop until you get to a doctor who will listen.   

Trust yourself and trust your body. Breast cancer does not discriminate on race, ethnicity, age or sex. 

My Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Story

By San Diego 3-Day Walker, Niki W.

I started doing the 3-Day in 2008 because a few of my fellow teacher friends invited me. I thought it was a perfect way to fundraise money towards breast cancer research, as I had lost a couple friends to this horrible disease. I also thought it would be a great way to spend time with these friends and to get exercise. I walked in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2019. I plan on walking in 2021 as well.

In the midst of everything else that 2020 brought my way, I found a very large lump in November, in my right breast.

I went in two days later, and my OBGYN said it felt too big to be cancer and not to worry about it. She scheduled some tests anyway for December but told me it was probably nothing. I cancelled my appointments and moved them to January because the December tests conflicted with our holiday plans, and I figured it didn’t matter since my doctor had said not to worry.

I finally went in for the tests on January 18 and had a mammogram, an ultrasound, and blood tests. My mammogram came out normal but they were able to see the lump on the ultrasound and my lymph nodes were very enlarged. They scheduled a biopsy for February 3. On February 5, I was walking with a friend on the beach when my OBGYN doctor called and said that I had an invasive carcinoma tumor 7X6 cm that had already spread to my lymph nodes.

I was in shock for several days and stopped sleeping and didn’t have an appetite. The next two weeks were a blur of appointments, scans, and more, as I found out that I needed to start chemo right away for six months, then surgery (double mastectomy) followed by radiation, reconstruction and hormone therapy for five-ten years.

Once I got my test results back and learned that I was only Stage 3 and the cancer had not yet moved to my organs, I was able to get my hope back! I am now continuously leaning on God each day and knowing that he is here with me through this. 

My hair started falling out in early March.  After I couldn’t take it anymore, four of my 3-Day friends arranged an outdoor haircut in my backyard so that I would have support during this traumatic time. I woke up that morning thinking that this would be the hardest day of my life, and my stomach was in knots all morning. However, when they arrived all wearing cowboy boots and hats and blasting country music (my favorite!), I couldn’t help but smile. Throughout the haircut, I was filled with gratitude for these amazing friends being with me during this really difficult time. They turned my sadness into joy, and it became one of the most special, intimate afternoons of my life.

My friends and family (and particularly my 3-Day team) have been amazing and have been here for every step along the way with cards, gifts, flowers, and meals. They even added my name to our 3-Day team logo so that we will now be walking for me as well as many other teachers from our school who have fought the battle and survived! I can’t wait to walk in November and be at the other side of this battle and able to spread my hope to others. 

My message for others is to not give up hope and to rely on your faith, family, and friends to get you through this. You can’t do it alone and you will need their support! Embrace it and don’t reject it. There will be so many blessings if you allow other people in.