What is breast cancer?
I pulled this information from imaginis.com, which is an award-winning, breast cancer information and news resource... Cancer is a group of diseases in which cells in the body grow, change, and multiply out of control. Usually, cancer is named after the body part in which it originated; thus, breast cancer refers to the erratic growth and proliferation of cells that originate in the breast tissue. A group of rapidly dividing cells may form a lump or mass of extra tissue. These masses are called tumors. Tumors can either be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). Malignant tumors penetrate and destroy healthy body tissues. A group of cells within a tumor may also break away and spread to other parts of the body. Cells that spread from one region of the body into another are called metastases. The term breast cancer refers to a malignant tumor that has developed from cells in the breast. The breast is composed of two main types of tissues: glandular tissues and stromal (supporting) tissues. Glandular tissues house the milk-producing glands (lobules) and the ducts (the milk passages) while stromal tissues include fatty and fibrous connective tissues of the breast. The breast is also made up of lymphatic tissue-immune system tissue that removes cellular fluids and waste. There are several types of tumors that may develop within different areas of the breast. Most tumors are the result of benign (non-cancerous) changes within the breast. For example, fibrocystic change is a non-cancerous condition in which women develop cysts (accumulated packets of fluid), fibrosis (formation of scar-like connective tissue), lumpiness, areas of thickening, tenderness, or breast pain.
I am a 29 year old and was diagnosed last year with metastatic breast cancer. Is there anyone I can relate to?
Your question is a very important one for many young adults dealing with breast cancer. I know when I was diagnosed 7 years ago at the age of 23 I felt so alone because I could not relate to any of the other women I had met through my cancer clinic. I was invited to support groups and given brochures by the local hospital, but it just never felt right. Because of this i was forced to think of ways beyond the support groups. I did a lot of research and read tons of books which is what eventually led me to Boarding for Breast Cancer. Luckily for you there are now some good choices for young survivors to find a peer support group. Although B4BC does not have an organized peer support group, it is still a great way to network so I encourage you to keep checking the calendar. If there is an event in your area then please come out! We meet many new survivors and hear tons of new stories at every event . Here are some other suggestions for you that I hope will help. There is a group called the Young Survival Coalition and they have a great network of young survivors and an excellent website that may be able to help you find some other young women with metastatic breast cancer. I know what really helped me was just talking to anyone who was young and dealing with the diagnosis of cancer at such an early age. The issues that we have to deal with are so different and sometimes I know it can become overwhelming. Here is the link to their site where you can try to locate other women you may want to reach out to: http://www.youngsurvival.org/young-women-and-bc/resources/. This website can also suggest resources in your area that you may be able to utilize. Another group is called The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. Although this is not specifically for breast cancer, they do have a way that you can be matched with an individual who either has had or currently has the same type of cancer. Here is the link to that program: http://ulmanfund.org/Services/SurvivorsandLovedOnesNetwork/tabid/74/Default.aspx. The reason I am involved with B4BC is so apparent when I write this email. I want to help other women when they need it the most. I have been through my pain and I know how hard it is to try to handle all of this at such a young age. Being proactive like this and getting in touch with other young survivors is something that I feel is really going to help you in your journey. If anything, you have made a new connection with me and I would love to be someone that you feel you can talk to anytime. I know this is a "mailbox" and it is a little weird sending in a question to someone you don't know, but I hope you will continue to stay in touch and let me know if I can give you anymore advice from my experience. Until then keep up the fight! Stay strong, live well and know that this is not something that you have to go through alone. There are others out there and I hope my suggestions will help you! Take care, Emily
I am only 14, can i get breast cancer?
At age 14, your risk of getting breast cancer is very, very, VERY low. I never like to say never, but it is VERY rare for someone at 14 to have breast cancer. As you grow older your hormones will fluctuate and your breasts will respond to these changes. Many young women have lumpy breasts which are totally normal. Your breasts will be growing and responding in all kinds of new ways to the hormones in your body. We recommend that you begin doing self breast exams once your breasts are fully developed. This can be anywhere from 10-16 years old. The importance of the self exam is to be aware of the changes that are occurring in your breasts and to alert your doctor if something does not feel right. The lumpiness that many women experience are called fibroids and these generally come and go with your period each month. Once you start doing self exams you will feel these lumps come and go. If you feel a lump that does not change then this is something that a doctor should check out. When I first found my lump through a self exam my doctor told me it was just a fibroid. I continued to monitor it and noticed that it never changed. I went back to the doctor and told them this and only then did they perform a biopsy. If you think you are at the age to start self exams then I strongly encourage you to. A doctor that only sees you once year is not aware of the changes your body is going through on a month to month basis. If you do feel something that you don't think is right, then let your doctor know. If they ever pass you off and tell you you are too young....find a new one! Hope this helps Emily
Where do I start? It has been a total of 3 weeks since I was diagnosed. I would consider myself a healthy person. Other family members have gotten cancer, but in their 60s. Can stress play a big part in getting cancer? This happened so fast...how and where do I start coping?
First let me say that making this step and asking for help is a huge one. I understand how you are feeling and with so many emotions running through your head it is difficult to know where to begin. This is when it helps to have a support system....and I hope this email will help you get started. Meeting with the doctors and understanding what you have is key. I hate to sound like every teacher I have ever had...but Knowledge is Power. Understanding the medical part can be done by making sure you take notes in your office visits...or have someone with you to take notes. My sister (I called her my Palm Pilot) came with me to every visit and made sure she took detailed notes. It was a hard time for me and taking notes has never really been my strong point. Then we would go home and research. I would write down any question I had and would ask these at the next visit. This went on every time I went in for anything. In fact it is still going on...7 years later. I email my doctor or call his nurse, I ask other survivors, I reach out to other professionals in the medical field, I read, I blog and lord have mercy do I Google. I am sure I annoy the hell out of a lot of people but if you don't understand what is going on inside your own body then it will be difficult to understand how to overcome it. When I went for my first consult with the surgeon I was shocked by the fact that he mentioned a mastectomy! It was not until then did I realize that I needed to get my act together. We were obviously dealing with something a little bit more serious than a bump and if I was going to have anyone take a body part away I was going to be damn sure I knew why..and how! Now...understanding Why? and How? is something that cannot be answered overnight. I used to ask myself those questions until I made myself sick. Was it my diet? Did sleeping in my bra cause this? I once ate lead paint as a child...could this have caused it? I soon found out that these were not helping me at all with the end result...recovery. I have always believed in the connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body. Who knows why you were diagnosed with breast cancer. That is not something for you to worry about right now and I do think that stress is going to make your recovery physically and mentally a lot tougher. Since my diagnosis 7 years ago I have had some medical problems pop up and instead of asking how and why I tell myself "Well that really really really sucks....now what do I need to do to fix it?" Yes..that really does go on inside my head. Stay focused on your recovery and and try to push the negative questions out of your head. As I have written in other emails there are a good dose of websites out there that you can start with. These can help navigate the world of a diagnosis. You will find blogs about what other patients have gone through or how they handled something. You can search for support groups in your area and local events for you to attend. And of course there is always B4BC and Ask Emily (that's me!).I will list these at the end of the email for you to reference. You mentioned that this may not be your last email and I say YES! Keep them coming. What you don't know is that by this email you are helping so many other people. Your questions are something that I have been asked a million times but have never had the opportunity to get my thoughts down on paper...er internet. As I always say...stay strong, live well and know that this is not something you have to go through alone. Take care! Emily A few resources to get you started: Young Survival Coalition- www.youngsurvival.org Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults- www.ulmanfund.org I'm Too young for This- www.imtooyoungforthis.org
I heard that breast cancer skips a generation. How much am I at risk if my grandmother had breast cancer?
You are at risk because you are a woman. Genetics does play an important role which is why it is critical to know your family's history. According to the American Cancer Society having a distant relative with a breast cancer diagnosis (grandmother, aunt, cousin....) puts you at a slightly higher risk. The first question you need to ask is if your grandmother had the breast cancer gene (BRCA). This would put you at a moderately higher risk assuming she had the gene and you inherited it. But as I mentioned...you are at risk because you have breast tissue. Regardless of your grandmother's history you should be performing monthly self breast exams. Make a note of any changes from month to month and let your doctor know immediately if you notice any suspicious changes. Here is the link to the section of the B4BC website that helps you with how to perform a BSE and what to look for: http://www.b4bc.org/index.php?area=checkyourself. Also, talk to you doctor and make sure he is aware of your family history. He/she may want to start screening you with ultrasounds or mammograms at an earlier age. Great question and thank you for asking! Stay strong and live well! Emily