Breast Cancer and Young Women

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • While only three percent of women with breast cancer are under 40, that tiny percentage translates into about 250,000 women in the U.S. living with the aftermath of the disease. A recent story in the Washington Post Style section, written by reporter Emily Wax, who was diagnosed last summer at age 32, gave poignancy to what it means to be one of those young women.

    In addition to telling Wax’s story--she’s a foreign correspondent, who was on home leave last summer from East Africa, and about to be posted with her husband to India—instead receives that devastating diagnosis.  She undergoes treatment and is soon experiencing the symptoms that many of us associate with a much older age—hair loss, bone pain, reduced libido, fertility issues, fatigue, stomach problems such as nausea and constipation. Instead of feeling a sense of kinship among the other women sitting in the chairs getting chemo alongside her, she’s overhearing comments about being a grandmother.
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    Wax also tells the story of a conference she attends for young breast cancers survivors, and the life-affirming people and events she finds there. Called the Young Survival Coalition and Living Beyond Breast Cancer. There, she finds people and workshops she can relate to, about dating and sexuality after breast cancer, “Cancer Can Kiss My ***” and “Bald is Beautiful”  tee-shirts, and proud displays of bald heads, surgery scars, and tattoos the women had done after surgery as a rite of their survival.

    Wax’s account of the women of the conference, their partying, and the affect they had on her was moving, especially her realization that despite her surgery, radiation and chemo, she was, in her words, “still alive” and “still young.”  Although they were delayed by several months, soon she and her husband will be headed to India. Her story underscored for me that while getting breast cancer at any age is terrible, the women who are afflicted in their 30s, at the peak of their fertility and self-confidence and beauty, bear a particularly heavy burden. I hope they find the resources they need and seek in our community. 
Published On: March 05, 2007