IN THEIR WORDS

Kerri Paquette

Breast Cancer At 25

I have always been an athlete, excelling mainly at soccer and running. I had the immune system of a superhero and sickness was a rarity for me.

I have played soccer from when I could walk and played through college until I graduated in 2005 from Keene State. I was playing indoor soccer in October of 2008 and I was hit rather hard by a friend on the opposing team in my right breast. I had a bruise instantly and I felt a lump.

My thoughts didn’t go any further than, “Wow, he really got me good” but since I have been playing competitively for many years, this did not alarm me. What’s another bruise and a lump?!

Throughout the months of being there for my family after my grandmother’s diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic lung cancer, I had forgotten about my mishap at soccer until one day, I happened to feel that lump again. This time it was bigger. I still wasn’t all that alarmed at this point, thinking that maybe I had some fluid in there from the hit months prior.

“I am 25”, I thought, and there was no way I had breast cancer at 25.

So on I went, living life. I finally made an appointment to see my primary care physician in mid March 2009. He agreed with me. I am too young for breast cancer, but he did feel that lump and he wanted to get it checked out through an ultrasound. I followed up with a surgical oncologist who said that it would be very odd for someone of my age to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but tumors that are cancerous usually have pointed edges and look “like a Christmas tree” and of course, my tumor looked like a Christmas tree. I had a fine needle biopsy right then and there.

I am too young for breast cancer…

I didn’t hear anything all day the next day and was relieved. I just knew it wasn’t anything bad! At 9:45p.m. that night, I got a call from my doctor and he told me that the cells came back and they showed that they were malignant cells and I had to go in for an appointment to meet my “team” the next day at 11a.m. My mind was racing, I didn’t even gather any of the information he was telling me. I walked out of the bathroom with the phone in my hand, gave it to my dad and said “Yeah.. so I have cancer” and I walked up to my room and I cried for a while.

My cancer was hormone related, I had two lymph nodes involved and the tumor was growing at a fast rate. Apparently this is common in young people with cancer. I was given a pretty aggressive treatment plan because of my age, which included chemo, removal of my right breast and radiation afterwards. Finally in June 2010, all of my bloodwork, biopsies, and MRI results came back that I had a clean bill of health.

In November of 2011 I had my largest operation yet; a left mastectomy and then a lat flap reconstruction of both breasts. Basically what this entails is taking back tissue, muscle and skin from your back (latissimus) and making new breasts with that, then they put in what they call “tissue expanders” to expand the skin each week with saline. The procedure was long and after a grueling 8 hours, I was on my way to recovery with two surgical drains in each side. A few days later I was home and two weeks after that, I was stuffing my surgical drains in my pantyhose to go to my 10 year high school reunion. After another hospital stay in December due to a staph infection, I had the right tissue expander removed.

Now, here I am after two more surgeries (one in April to put the right tissue expander back in and another in August to finally have my implants in), and I still have another couple to go.

I can’t express enough that you must be your own advocate and take control of your body. I was in a mentality back then that I was a super hero and nothing bad would ever happen to me especially since I was always so active. Taking care of yourself is important, but also knowing your own body is equally as important and I think often overlooked. The last thing I was thinking that would happen to me was breast cancer at age 25, but it is becoming more common. Know your body, pay attention to your body and don’t ignore something that your body is telling you even if it something that you have overlooked in the past.

"What's another bruise and a lump for an athlete?!"

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