How I found out I had cancer before I was 40

Olivia Silver is a writer and a PR professional. She also has breast cancer. Last May, she was diagnosed with the disease, and soon after, she started writing about it. In this new column, each week, Olivia will take a look at another surprising aspect of living life while being treated for breast cancer as a 30-something. 

I’m not the first person in the world to get breast cancer. But it never occurred it would happen to me. It’s always someone else.

I planned out my whole summer. I was going to get in shape by training for a half marathon. I was going to take walks to Lake Michigan. I was going to enjoy the new neighborhood that we moved to last October.

I don’t know what compelled me to check my breasts, but I thought that I should probably start doing self-examinations. It may be have been a sign in my doctor’s office when I had my annual check-up. I’m not sure. But in the shower one day in May I felt my breasts and realized that one was thicker than the other. Thicker seems like such a weird adjective, but it felt like I had a stronger muscle in one breast. I was working out more with weights so maybe that impacted my breasts?

I went to my regular doctor. I remember waiting for her to come into the exam room to check me out. The wait was excruciating. I almost got up several times to leave because I didn’t want to be any later for work. But I stayed and she examined me. She told me she wanted me to get a second opinion and see a particular breast surgeon. If I couldn’t get an appointment with this doctor, then I should make an appointment with one of her colleagues. I went back to work and called the breast surgeon’s office and she happened to have an opening. All along I never expected anything. I was going through the motions.

But then I go to the breast surgeon and she examines me.

She says she doesn’t like what she feels and wants me to get a mammogram and ultrasound. I tell her that I’ll make those appointments another day because I should really get back to work. And she declares that I’m not going anywhere and am getting those tests immediately. What I thought would be an hour-long appointment turned into five hours. Throughout the day I told my husband to not come to the doctor’s office because it’s nothing—still not believing what’s happening. I’m 36 and women my age don’t get this.

At one point the medical staff tells me I’m going to get a biopsy. I didn’t know what that was, but it is painful. I start to get scared and even more scared when the doctor doing the biopsy tells me that even though we have to wait for the results, he is almost certain it’s breast cancer. Instantly, I start crying in a really emotional, un-pretty kind of way.

Breast cancer.

Today, my days are filled with feeling tired due in large part to my every other Thursday chemo appointment. I’ll have eight of those appointments and am currently on number five. But I still work full-time and keep as active as I can.

I lost my hair, which at the time, seemed extremely depressing because I loved my hair and I worked hard to find my unique style. But I now wear a uniquely bald style, which turned out to be not as bad as I thought. I haven’t fully gotten used to wearing my wig, but I wear scarves on weekends and taught myself how to tie all of these different looks.

My taste buds changed. Things like beer and almonds taste awful so they are no longer a part of my diet. But I’ve also experienced wonderful kindness from my friends and loved ones. My prior employer created a food calendar and a different person brings me a different meal each day. The outpouring on Facebook has been so great that it warms my heart. Some friends send me quick “thinking of you” texts and others send these little care packages to remind me that they care. I’ve started writing again, which has been so wonderful. I didn’t realize how much I missed it and how therapeutic it could be.

But there are days when I’m so tired that all I can do is watch television in the evening and fall asleep on the couch. I sometimes toss and turn at night and experience hot and cold sweats—a symptom of the chemo. And there are also days when I cry. In part, I cry because I feel like the meter is about to expire and I haven’t accomplished all my dreams yet. I also can’t imagine saying good-bye to my husband. He’s my best friend and the person I’ve known for almost 20 years. We’ve been married for 11 years and I’m not ready to let him go. In college we used to talk about sitting in rocking chairs on a porch growing old together. I don’t want him doing that without me.

I have been so naive to think that I had forever to make things happen. But if cancer can be a blessing in any way then it has given me a wake-up call to seize the day, appreciate life and those around me more and stop talking about dreams and instead make them happen.

This blog will share different things I’m learning on this journey, as well as shed light on what life is like to be a woman under 40 with breast cancer. I hope my story will inspire you to try something new and appreciate life even more.

[Image via iStock]