Don’t believe breast cancer is 1 in 8

It’s not in my circle of friends

I’m 45. In 2010, at the age of 39 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time I thought I was unlucky — given one in eight women suffer from it in their lifetime. The fact I was young surely meant my nearest and dearest would benefit from my bodies decision to take one for the team. That’s a positive in the shit storm right?

A mere six months later, as I sat in an Oncology waiting room I got a group message from a 35- year- old friend. It said. ‘There is no easy way to say this, I have breast cancer — invasive ductal carcinoma to be specific’. My heart started pounding.

WTF, how could this be right? Two of us diagnosed pre 40 within a six month period? I was floored. So shocked and sickened that I literally thought I might throw up. Tears came to my eyes as I considered what she was about to go through. Sometimes it seems, someone else’s pain is sharper than your own.

Over the course of the next six months our bond strengthened as we both endured treatment (hers ran for six, mine twelve). Then we left our homes in Sydney and moved across the world to NYC. Adventure time! We shared an apartment for the next 12 months. And cancer. Yes cancer came too, it was picked up in her bone scans right after our NY arrival.

For a year we did our level best to get the most out of every day. We skied Utah & Colorado, fine dined & drank cocktails across NYC, enjoyed jazz in New Orleans, sunned in the Caribbean, fell in love with Montauk and so much more. We also spent a lot of time at at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. After a year of unsuccessful treatments and stressful scan results, she moved home. Seven months later she was devastatingly gone along with a piece of my heart. Such a f*cking travesty. She was 37 years old.

Clearly my life after cancer has been a mixed bag. High highs, the lowest of lows, coupled with a new appreciation for living in the moment. Six years on, I feel less fear and more confident of my mortality. That those horrible days are more memory than current reality.

Or I did, until now. Recently I got a text asking if I was free for a chat. My gut led to me dialing out immediately. When my dear friend picked up the phone she told me she’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer. At 41. Wait, what? That makes three of us, all closely connected, by the same friends.

I don’t understand. Each of us went to our Doctor after noticing a lump or breast discharge, not due to a routine check. All three diagnosis’s led to mastectomy and chemotherapy. Mine likely wouldn’t have if I’d been diagnosed years earlier when my Dr told me a discharge was hormonal ‘because you haven’t had a baby yet’. Instead I went into menopause soon after starting chemotherapy. It is clearly critical to take responsibility for your breast health (including men and their loved ones).

You have to question why this happened. Stressful careers? Too much sugar? Birth control? Alcohol? Hormones in factory farming? Our mutual oncologist says it just is what it is. Each case is entirely unrelated, our cancers so very different. His words don’t make it any easier to get my head around.

So what on earth is happening? Why us? I can only hope medical advancement will at least give us some more concrete answers — of course I’d prefer a cure.

This post wasn’t written to evoke pity or fear. Well maybe just a little bit of fear. Because I don’t think you or your female loved ones should think it wont happen to you. Be vigilant, regularly check your breasts for changes. If your Doctor tells you not to be concerned, challenge them. I don’t believe it’s only one in eight of us. Even if it is, finding out sooner is better than later. That I do know.

I’m sorry to my beautiful friends who followed me down this path. Turns out I didn’t take one for the team. There is no team. I don’t know why I’m still here when my truly amazing friend isn’t. But since I am I will own this story. Use it to generate action. Hopefully some action from you.

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