Rallying Around Natalia
“Your 20's the best time of your life, oh wait you have breast cancer.”
Like so many of you, I read those words and was immediately drawn into Natalia Hernandez’s story. Her SharePost appeared on this site last Tuesday, and since then there’s been an outpouring of support, suggestions, and just plain “we’re with you, girl” responses from readers. I’ve read and re-read Natalia’s story and the ensuing comments, because I like what they say to me about how we all meet on the common ground of breast cancer, and the passion we have to support one another.
But why this over-the-top response to Natalia? I’m reading comments from women and men whom I’m quite sure have never commented before. There’s plenty of opportunity; between the regular bloggers and the “featured members” corner, there’s always something new to read and respond to. Yet most stories disappear quietly, slipping silently into the archives to be replaced by a new blog, a new featured member telling her (or his) story. This time, the comments (and Natalia’s responses) have become a story unto themselves: from Daniel writing about his own wife’s journey, to Sally, a young survivor like Natalia, sharing the bittersweet “benefits” of her treatment. Why the big response?
First, I believe Natalia’s story strikes a chord in many of us older readers. ****, you’re just not supposed to get breast cancer when you’re that young! Don’t get me wrong, there’s never a “good” time to hear those awful words. But when you move into your 40s and 50s, and start having regular mammograms, breast cancer is something you’re at least aware of. Oh yeah… gotta watch out for bone loss, menopause, weight issues, breast cancer… it’s just another item in the laundry list of health issues we face as we get older. Earlier in our lives, all our friends were getting married. Then having babies. Then maybe getting divorced. Suddenly we have friends with breast cancer. And then–“Hey, it’s ME with breast cancer.” It’s a kick in the gut… but not one that comes totally out of the blue.
However, when I first read Natalia’s story (and Keri Haberstroh’s too), I was consumed with anger and sadness. “It’s not right,” I kept thinking. “She’s too young. She doesn’t deserve this challenge so soon. She’s still a kid, for crying out loud…” Natalia writes, “I never worried about seeing the doctor or ever getting a check up, my life was party after party...” Sound familiar? Remind you of your own 20-something child? I think that’s where many of us are coming from. Natalia could be our daughter. And, as with any serious medical issues affecting our kids, a daughter with breast cancer is far more devastating than yourself with breast cancer.
And the “Oh, you’re too young to have breast cancer, so let’s not test for it” response from the medical community that Natalia reports is chillingly familiar. Time and time again I’ve heard of young women whose treatment was delayed, with serious consequences, because their breast lumps weren’t taken seriously. “It must be a cyst.” Or “Your breasts are bound to change over the course of your menstrual cycle.” I’m not pointing a finger at doctors and nurses here; the GP you see for your everyday health issues isn’t an oncologist, and can’t be expected to diagnose breast cancer. But here’s a gentle reminder to all of us, doctor and patient alike: youth doesn’t protect you from breast cancer. It’s always a possibility. Think about it: There’s only a minuscule chance of you getting hit by a car when you cross the street, but you still look both ways when you cross, right? And when there’s a lump in a breast–even a 20-something breast–it needs to be assessed, not dismissed.
Natalia, we wish you well. Your online sisters are here for you. You’ve drawn the short straw, and by God you’re fighting back. Best of luck if you get to M.D. Anderson; it’s the #1 cancer treatment center in America. And in the meantime, please keep us updated. You’ve touched so many of us with your story. And the love we survivors have for one another is surely evident right here and right now, on this site.