IN THEIR WORDS

Caitlin Whitney

Breast Cancer At 29

I was 29 years old and I had a great job teaching at an elementary school. One day my co-worker confided in me that she found a breast lump. While we were both worried that it could be cancer, tests revealed thankfully that it was not. Not long after my co-worker’s scare, I started doing breast self-exams.

Fast forward three months later; during a breast self-exam I thought I found a lump. I was shocked and scared and thought, “Could it be cancer?”

It had been six years since I had my last appointment with a doctor, but first thing in the morning after feeling that lump, I called my doctor’s office and asked to be seen that day. They told me I could come in three and a half week later! I knew this lump had not been there before, and my gut was screaming that this was serious, so I insisted to be seen that same day.

Because I hadn’t seen a doctor in six years, my doctor just wanted to do a full physical exam and they didn’t seem to be alarmed by the lump. But I was; I knew that since I was doing self-exams, this lump was not normal for me. I insisted that the focus of my doctor’s visit be on the lump which led to an ultrasound.

The ultrasound revealed a solid mass, but my doctor wanted to take a wait and see approach. My doctor told me that if the lump changed over time the next step would be a biopsy to determine if it was cancer. Because I had been doing self-exams, I already knew this was a big change in my normal health and I did not want to wait any longer, so I pushed to have the biopsy sooner. It was scheduled two days later and the biopsy results revealed that I had a very aggressive breast cancer. But because of how quickly I noticed the lump, got in to see my doctor, and was tested, I was diagnosed early at stage 1.

The survival rate for stage 1 breast cancer is 93%. The survival rate drops to just 6% at stage 4. My oncologist later told me that had my diagnosis been delayed just three to six more weeks (possibly the time my doctor had wanted to ‘wait and see’!), that my cancer would have progressed to a stage 2 or possibly a stage 3, making my chance of survival MUCH lower.

The lump in my breast was removed through surgery followed by chemotherapy.

While I was in the middle of my treatment, and after I received a very good prognosis, I called 15-40 Connection to say “Thank you for saving my life.”

I was following 15-40 Connections on Facebook so through their messaging, I knew how important it was to check yourself, and if your gut tells you something is wrong, to go see a doctor. 15-40 Connection also helped me advocate for myself. When my doctor wanted to focus on a general exam, I knew I wanted them to focus on my lump. And when they wanted to take a ‘wait and see’ approach, I knew in my gut that something was seriously wrong, so I pushed to get tested sooner rather than later.

If I hadn’t been aware of 15-40 Connection’s messaging I probably wouldn’t have reacted to the lump or my doctors’ approach the way I did. But if I didn’t follow what I learned from 15-40 Connection, my diagnosis would have been delayed and as a result my prognosis would have been VERY different.

When I found out that I had breast cancer, I had a moment of asking ‘why me?’ but ultimately I decided, it’s me for a reason. I do not have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes so I may never know why I got cancer, but now my mission is to pay it forward.

I have made it my goal to raise awareness and support 15-40 Connection and help get the message out about early detection. Early detection and not taking ‘no’ for an answer saved my life, and in telling my story, I hope it saves someone else’s.

Watch the video of Caitlin telling her story by clicking the video below.

 
 
"15-40 Connection saved my life."

caitlin whitney with her students

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