How a sticky bra helped me discover I have breast cancer
A sticky bra saved my life.
I’m not exaggerating. Let me back up.
Only a few weeks into 2018, I planned a weekend trip to see one of my best friends from college. As we got dressed to go out, I did something I’d done hundreds of times before—I applied an adhesive bra. This time, though, while sticking it onto my skin, I felt a lump in my right breast. It seemed odd to me, especially since it had only been about two weeks since I last put on a sticky bra and I hadn’t felt anything unusual then. I wasn’t too concerned, though, and quickly forgot about it during a night on the town with my friends.
The next morning, I remembered feeling the lump and decided to check again to see if it was still there. Spoiler alert: it definitely was. It didn’t take much work to find it either. I could feel the lump just by running my fingers over my skin—no groping and poking like in an annual exam.
I asked my friend—she is a nurse—to feel it. She told me not to freak out because it was “probably nothing.” But knowing that I am a hypochondriac, she thought it’d be a good idea for me to go to the doctor that week and get it checked out for my peace of mind. I told my parents, and they also agreed that getting the doctor’s sign off would help me calm down. We all assumed that there was no way the lump could be of concern—especially due to my young age (24), lack of family history (literally nonexistent), and the fact that it seemed to have appeared overnight.
The OB-GYN echoed these feelings, reassuring me that I had nothing to worry about, and ordered a breast ultrasound and mammogram just to be sure. During the ultrasound, I was again told that there could be nothing wrong with me. The doctor would do an ultrasound first, and the mammogram would likely not be necessary. It was explained to me that they don’t like to mammogram young breast tissue, and I also learned that the density of young women’s breasts makes it extremely difficult for doctors to even see anything.
But then I started to get nervous. After the ultrasound, they decided to perform the mammogram that I had already been told wouldn’t be necessary. My mom and I waited in the office for the mammogram results, and the nurse told us that they could see a “mass.” Still, they told me not to get worked up because they couldn’t tell anything else from these tests.
Next, I got a biopsy. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but let me tell you, a biopsy is not easy to endure. My entire breast was bruised and extremely sore for several weeks. At this point, I was a little concerned, but I still felt pretty certain that the results would come back normal. After all, look how many people had assured me it was “probably nothing.”
You can imagine my shock when I got the call from my doctor. The test results showed that I had breast cancer.
Like I said before, I have no family history of breast cancer. I don’t even personally know another person who has had breast cancer. I had no clue of my next steps, but the breast care coordinator at my hospital was amazing and walked me through the immediate weeks following my diagnosis. Those days were a blur of appointment after appointment after appointment. In only one week, I had met with my breast surgeon, my radiation oncologist, my medical oncologist, my plastic surgeon, and a fertility specialist. Together, they had created an exact plan for my treatment—it was a lot of information to receive at once.
I was overwhelmed, but I luckily had a ton of support at each appointment. Watchings doctors find a way to squeeze my mom, dad, stepdad, stepmom, fiancé, and brother into the exam rooms offered some comic relief during my stressful appointments. I didn’t feel alone for a single second.
My doctors determined that chemotherapy would be the first step in my treatment plan. First I had to get blood tests, have an echocardiogram, start taking the drug that would preserve my fertility, and have my port surgically placed. I was so nervous to start chemotherapy—I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.
Now on my third round of chemo, the physical side effects really suck—but the hardest part has been losing my hair. Even though I was expecting hair loss, I wasn’t expecting how fast it would happen. My hair started coming out in large clumps about two weeks after my first chemo treatment. It was pretty traumatizing, so I made an appointment to get my hair cut to shoulder length; I thought that would be fine for at least another round. I left the salon with a cute bob thanks to my amazing hairstylist who has been doing my hair for over ten years—but my hair kept coming out. After my second round of chemo, my hairstylist came to my house to buzz it all off. I’ve been gifted a beautiful wig, and I’m excited to experiment with new styles.
Staying positive has been what gets me through this tough process. That and starting my blog.
When I was first diagnosed, I searched long and hard for resources specifically made for young women battling breast cancer and—guess what? Not many existed.
After countless conversations with both my doctors and friends, it became clear to me that most people are completely unaware that this can happen to anyone, regardless of their age. The sobering reality is that more and more young women are being diagnosed, but because less than 5% of diagnosed women in the U.S. are below the age of 40, most available resources are not made for us.
For that reason, I quickly developed a mission to raise awareness among young women. I created a network of support for my peers near and far who are going through the same thing. I started Whitty’s Titty Committee, where I blog, share details about my experience, and pass along resources I find on the way. I hope that my openness not only helps other women fighting breast cancer, but also encourages young women to be aware of their bodies and conduct self-exams regularly.
You can follow my fight at whittystittycommittee.com, on my Instagram, @alexxwhiitaker, and via the hashtag #WhittysTittyCommittee.