My Breast Cancer Journey

My Breast Cancer Journey

By: Evie Kaplan Downing of Wilmington, Delaware, Sharsheret Caller

My journey with breast cancer began on Mother’s Day 2009. I was 28-years-old. While breastfeeding my 21-month-old son, I noticed that my right breast hurt. Instead of feeling the small, firm spot signaling a clogged duct that I expected to find, I felt a much larger lump. I immediately made an appointment with my doctor who was, thankfully, able to see me that day. After she examined my breast, she assured me that she didn’t think the lump was cancerous. Just to be safe, she wanted me to have an ultrasound and a mammogram and probably a biopsy too, but she didn’t think I had anything to worry about. I went for my mammogram a few days later feeling lighthearted and unconcerned. I thought nothing of it when the technician told me that the radiologist needed to speak with me. He explained that my right breast showed large calcium deposits that were “consistent with carcinoma.” Before I knew it, I had an appointment with a breast surgeon. A biopsy showed that the tumor was, indeed, cancerous. I had a lumpectomy and 16 cancerous lymph nodes removed, and then learned I would need a mastectomy. I met with an oncologist who suggested I have genetic testing done because I am of Ashkenazi descent and was diagnosed at such a young age. At the time, I had no idea that being an Ashkenazi Jew put me at higher risk. The test showed that I was BRCA2 positive, so I opted for a bilateral mastectomy. The mastectomy was followed by 5 months of chemotherapy and 4 weeks of radiation, as well as breast reconstruction with expanders followed by silicone implants.

My involvement with Sharsheret began when my mother suggested that I call. I was really touched by how much the clinical staff cared about my well-being. They set me up with a peer supporter who had also been diagnosed while she was still breastfeeding, but at the time, I was still in too much shock over my diagnosis to make the call. After I completed most of my treatment, I began thinking about how I would have to put off having more children and found it very upsetting. Sharsheret set me up with another peer supporter. I realized that I’m not quite ready to face delayed childbearing head-on, but it is comforting to know that when I am ready, there is someone there for me to speak with who has been through this as well. This past December I participated in Sharsheret’s teleconference on prophylactic surgery for breast and ovarian cancer. I found it reassuring to hear women who had undergone prophylactic surgery speak about the pros and cons and about how it had affected them. The teleconference also answered several questions I had about having an oophorectomy.

I will be taking medication for the next five years. I will consider having an oophorectomy before I turn 40 because of my increased risk of ovarian cancer. At the same time, I learned that I am a whole lot stronger than I knew. I learned what an amazing group of friends I have. My husband and I realized how much we really mean to each other and that we really do want to spend the rest of our lives together. It has not been an easy journey, but I have learned a lot about myself and the world. I would never wish breast cancer on anyone, but I would also never take back my experience.