My Positive Breast Cancer Story [after Postpartum Diagnosis]

I never in a million years thought I would be someone who got cancer in my 30’s. There are days when I STILL can’t believe this is my story.

Breast cancer takes such a physical and emotional toll on you. It is a journey that entails SO much more than I ever knew. Throughout this process, I found comfort in reading blogs by other young breast cancer survivors. I hope that sharing my story touches you in a positive way too!

In this post, I will walk you through my postpartum breast cancer diagnosis. I will discuss finding my lump, having a double mastectomy, fighting through chemo, and receiving radiation therapy.

Postpartum Lump

Two months after I had my second daughter, I found a lump in my left breast. Initially, I noticed it because it hurt when I held her against me. I chalked it up to being just a clogged milk duct until I finally made an appointment with my obgyn.

When I met with my doctor, she set my mind at ease by telling me that cancer doesn’t typically hurt like my lump did. She also said it felt perfectly round and moved easily, both of which were good signs it was just a cyst.

Even though she wasn’t alarmed by any of these characteristics, my obgyn scheduled an ultrasound and a mammogram to be on the safe side. To this day, I am so thankful for her handling the situation in such a proactive way.

Since being diagnosed, I’ve heard so many stories of doctors blowing off a breast lump because the patient or tumor didn’t match the norm.

3D Mammogram & Ultrasound

On September 7, 2018 I went in for my very first mammogram. I remember being terrified the machine would smash my boobs and hurt them. It actually wasn’t painful at all. I’m a huge baby with doctors and pain, but I remember thinking I could handle mammograms from here on out.

woman with text overlay "Diagnosed with Breast Cancer- A Young Survivor's Story"

Little did I know, this would be the only mammogram I would ever have. After my mammogram, I went into a separate room for the ultrasound. The ultrasound tech took images of my breast and then asked me to wait in the room while the radiologist read the results.

A few minutes later, she came back asking to take more images. In hindsight I probably should have been alarmed by this, but I didn’t know any better. She let me know again that the radiologist would be in shortly to discuss the results.

A few moments later the radiologist came into the room and kind of bluntly, kind of apologetically informed me that I had breast cancer. “No!!!!…..Really???” was my immediate response. I asked him what the chances were of it just being a cyst.

He replied emphatically that it was not a cyst. I immediately thought of my two girls and started sobbing. Then I thought of myself and how this could have happened. How did I have breast cancer? I was 36 years old. I had a five year old and a new baby at home.

All of my grandparents were still alive and well. Cancer didn’t run in my family at all. I wasn’t overweight. For the most part, I ate healthy and tried to buy natural products for my skin. How was this even possible?

I decided that the radiologist had no clue what he was talking about. I mean, how could he determine the lump was cancerous just by looking at a picture?! Unfortunately, he could….and he did. I researched this a lot when I was first diagnosed, and one of the studies I found showed that radiologists can recognize cancer within seconds of seeing it on a scan.

This article from the American Cancer Society explains the things the radiologist looks for. They use a rating scale known as BIRADS to classify the tumor.

My radiologist classified mine as BIRADS 5, which meant he was around 95% certain it was cancerous. A tumor biopsy is the only way to 100% know that a lump is malignant or not, so that’s where I headed next.

Tumor Biopsy

The ultrasound tech was really sweet and consoled me. She called a breast surgeon in the office next door, and he was able to work me in for a biopsy immediately. Everyone kept telling me I needed to have my husband come up to go through the process with me.

He was at home with our baby; though, and I knew our infant would be a disaster in a doctor’s office. So, we talked and texted back and forth while he stayed home with our baby girl.

My surgeon was really nice and hugged me right away. He just kept telling me that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t believe him at all, but I appreciated the sentiment. The radiologist found the main tumor, which I had felt. But he also noticed a couple other tiny spots that looked suspicious. The surgeon wanted to do a biopsy on all three spots.

flowers with Text overlay "Diagnosed with breast cancer in my 30's"

I laid on an operating table where the nurses numbed me. The doctor used some type of tool to take the biopsy. It sounded like he was hitting a rock. The surgeon finished the biopsy and told me to try to enjoy the weekend without worrying about the results.

Easier said than done. It was the worst weekend EVER. The not knowing is terrible! The only thing that made me feel better was to read success stories from women my age who had been in my shoes.

Pathology Report

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wasn’t aware that there are so many different types of the disease. I thought breast cancer was breast cancer. On the contrary, so many types of the disease exist and treatment depends on the specific kind you have.

Three days after my tumor biopsy, my doctor called with my results. My tumor was classified as invasive ductal carcinoma. It was estrogen receptor positive, progesterone receptor positive, and HER2 negative.

The biopsy showed that it was contained to my breast and had not spread. (Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case.) The next week was full of doctor’s appointments. I now have SO many doctors.

My Breast Cancer Treatment

In this one week, I had genetic testing, an MRI, and a consultation with a plastic surgeon. I also had another ultrasound after the MRI found questionable spots in my right breast. All of the testing came back with good results thankfully.

Bilateral Mastectomy

I knew I wanted a double mastectomy immediately after I heard the words breast cancer. My surgeon wanted to remove my left breast, but he said I could keep the right one. I wanted them both gone.

They disgusted me and made me angry. I felt like they had betrayed me and taken control of my body. I wanted control back, and I wanted them off ASAP! To this day, I have not mourned them at all. Maybe it’s because they weren’t that cute to begin with. Ha!

I had my bilateral mastectomy about three weeks after being diagnosed. The plan was to remove both breasts along with four lymph nodes to make certain the cancer hadn’t spread. During surgery, my plastic surgeon would insert tissue expanders to keep my skin stretched until it was time to place actual implants.

I had no clue that so much went into treating breast cancer! The week after my surgery was a really rough one. We had hoped that all of my tests were accurate and that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes.

colorful paper with text overlay "diagnosed with postpartum breast cancer"

My surgeon called a few days after my surgery to inform me that the cancer was in two of the lymph nodes though. He was now debating taking out more lymph nodes or having me complete radiation therapy.

He referred me to a radiation oncologist who specializes in breast cancer on the left side. Since the heart is on the left side of the body, they have to be extra careful radiating the chest without hitting the heart. Again, another issue I had never thought of until I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Chemo and Hair Loss

I met with my medical oncologist for the first time the week following my surgery. My oncologist is a really intelligent, mild mannered man who I trust completely. He informed me that my cancer was classified as stage 1, but that it was extremely aggressive. It wanted to spread, and it wanted to come back.

He told me we were going to have to fight it really aggressively. I was going to need a port inserted into my chest for chemotherapy, and I was going to be getting the tough chemotherapy.

Basically, my oncologist told me one of my biggest fears was about to come true: I was going to be sick as a dog, and I was going to lose my hair. I cared nothing about losing my breasts, but losing my hair was terrifying!

Radiation Therapy

A few days after meeting with the medical oncologist, I had a consultation with the radiation oncologist. One of the first things she said was “I really think I can help you.” For some reason those words meant a lot to me, and I liked her immediately.

She told me she could reduce the risk of my cancer returning, and I was to see her again once I finished chemo. So my plan for attack was to complete 6 months of chemo, followed by 6 weeks of radiation, and then 10 years of hormone therapy.

Also, if you are keeping score, I now have a genetics counselor, a surgeon, a plastic surgeon, a radiation oncologist, and a medical oncologist.

Breast Reconstruction with Tissue Expanders

Since I had chosen to have breast reconstruction with tissue expanders, I had to meet with my plastic surgeon regularly to have my expanders increased. He filled them up a little at each visit to stretch my skin so it could handle implants.

Again, something I never thought about when I heard the words breast cancer! Once we got my breasts to a size we were comfortable with, my plastic surgeon stopped filling them. However, I had to continue to keep them in place until after radiation.

Positive Reflection of Postpartum Breast Cancer

My doctors kept telling me that this new life would become my new normal. I think once I accepted this new life, I felt so much better mentally and emotionally. I have learned to truly, TRULY live day to day. If I think about the future and the possible side effects from both the cancer and the treatments, I get really overwhelmed.

Instead I have learned to be consciously thankful for all of the positives. I am grateful we caught the breast cancer when we did. I’m grateful there are treatment options to make me better. I am SO grateful to be LIVING.

My husband created a book of inspirational quotes from my family and friends to help keep my spirits up. I gathered these breast cancer quotes into a post. Thank you for reading this really personal story!

Have you been diagnosed with postpartum breast cancer?

If breast cancer has touched your life in some way, I would love for you to comment below and tell me about it!

↓↓Pin This for Later↓↓

makeup with text overlay diagnosed with breast cancer: a young survivor's story

Similar Posts

14 Comments

  1. Hi Shari! I came across your hair regrowth after chemo post on another sleepless night and dove into your story. I was diagnosed last October when I was 4 months postpartum. I found 2 lumps in my left breast just 3 weeks before I delivered my first daughter. My doctor blew it off at every appointment to a clogged duct. I had a mammogram, sonogram, biopsy and diagnosis in a matter of 4 days. I finished Docetaxel in February, bilateral mastectomy in March and am back on Kadcyla chemotherapy through next year but my hair started growing back around April.
    I found relief and joy seeing your hair growth process as something to look forward to after being hairless for so long. It’s a long road but after all we’ve been through at least it’s a pain free road.
    I’ve found comfort knowing I’m not alone in this journey and seeing so many success stories. Thank you for sharing your story!

    1. Hi Monique,

      First, congratulations on welcoming your baby girl into the world! I know exactly what a whirlwind of emotions the past year has been for you. I’m so glad to hear that you kept pursuing the lumps with your doctor until you finally received a diagnosis. I feel so blessed that my doctor (who thought I had a cyst) made me get a mammogram and ultrasound anyway. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story, and hopefully it can remind others to go with our gut when we really feel like something isn’t right. I wish you all the best in your continued recovery and hair regrowth. Enjoy that sweet baby girl!

  2. I hopped on Pinterest tonight just to kill some time, and I found your post about hair coming back from chemo, and since my last taxotere treatment is in a few weeks, it peaked my interest! Then I saw that you found your cancer while postpartum, like me, and I had to read more!
    My son was 2 months old in May 2020, when my “bad boob” finally began to morph into an unusual shape. It was extremely painful, and both my OB and my lactation consultant insisted for 7 weeks that what I was dealing with was mastitis. When I finally said “inverted nipple”, they listened.
    28 years old, mother of 2, diagnosed with Stage 3, ER/PR negative, HER2 positive breast cancer during the pandemic. Its been wild! Lol
    I am with you though, living each day to the fullest is the only way!

    1. Hey Alli,

      Congratulations on being close to finishing your chemo treatments! I’m glad you are now able to start anticipating some hair growth. It’s a slow process, but it’s so exciting! You are so young to be diagnosed…I’m so glad your doctor finally listened AND that you found it when you did. I’m sure it’s been a crazy year with cancer treatment, pandemic, and a new baby. I hope 2021 calms down for you! Thank you for sharing your story, and I wish you all the best!

  3. Hi Shari!
    I’m 37 and diagnosed with Invasive ductal carcinoma last Dec. 31,2019 (Happy New Year eh?!) Anyway, I thank God In stumbled in your post. It was helpful. Gotta meet with the surgeon tomorrow to discuss the treatment plan. Thanks again

    1. Melissa,

      Oh my goodness…what a way to start the new year! I am so sorry to hear of your diagnosis. Hang in there because it’s a lot at first, but it does eventually get better. I wish you all the best and feel free to reach out with any questions you have. Take care!

  4. Hi Shari, I found your post on Pinterest when I was looking for something for my cooking students to do for October/Breast Cancer Awareness month. I have a very similar story to yours and am here to share it with you 24 years later! I was a young woman fighting aggressive breast cancer, so I chose to fight it aggressively. I had five surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation because I needed to raise my children! It was a crummy year, but I have lived to see my children graduate from college, get married and start their own families.( They were seven and eleven when I was diagnosed.) There has been so many positive discoveries for breast cancer treatment in the last 24 years. You can do this! Be strong.

    1. Hi Carol,

      THANK YOU!! You have no idea how much I needed to read your comment today. It’s so easy to feel discouraged when we are in the thick of it; but, stories like yours are so inspiring. I really appreciate you taking the time to share!

      1. Hi Shari
        Thank you for sharing your story. As i am reading your story it sounds so much like my own story. I was diagnosed on 14 February this year also by the Radiologist. I didnt really have any symptoms so being told that was the greatest shock imaginable. I was having a low day today and when I saw your photo of 15 months with the ponytail it gave me so much hope. I feel today I can do this. I am two months post chemo. I am missing my long blonde hair. Thanks again for your inspirational story.

        1. Hi Sonia,

          Thank you for sharing your story. I can just imagine how shocked you must have felt being diagnosed with no symptoms! I’m glad your radiologist found it though! Congratulations to you on finishing chemo. Hang in there because you will eventually start to feel like your old self again. We all have our down days, but just keep looking for the light at the end, Best wishes to you in your recovery and in your hair growth!

  5. I am so sorry you went through this. I am a survivor too. I am shocked at the unprofessionalism of your radiologist. You can not determine whether a lump is cancerous with imaging like ultrasound or mammogram until your have pathology run on your biopsy. It can look suspicious and they can give you a BIRADS score, but no one can tell it’s cancer 100% without the pathology from a biopsy. The only 100% certainty of cancer BIRADS score is a 6, and it can only be given when your have pathology from a biopsy.

    1. Hi Ann Marie,

      I have to admit I didn’t love my radiologist in the beginning; but, then I realized I was angry at the diagnosis. What’s the saying…don’t shoot the messenger. Although I knew I had a small chance of him being incorrect, my radiologist classified the tumor as BIRADS 5. Unfortunately that meant he was pretty certain (95%) that it was malignant.

      Even though he wasn’t the most emotional/sympathetic person, he can’t have the most fun job if he’s having to break life shattering news to people. So, I am assuming he is a wonderfully warm and caring person who is just very matter of fact in his delivery (maybe as a defense mechanism). It can’t be easy to walk into a room and tell someone they most likely have cancer.

      Regardless, it all worked out in the end! Thank you so much for commenting! It’s so nice to have a conversation with someone rather than just spilling out my thoughts all the time! Ha! Best wishes to you!

  6. HI Shari!! I found you on Pinterest. I was also diagnosed with breast cancer recently. ..April 5, 2019, to be exact. I am a 35 year old mom to 3 kids (twins that are almost 12 and a 9 yr old). My diagnosis is invasive papillary carcinoma, grade 3, stage 1b, triple negative. I also had a bilateral mastectomy with tissue expanders placed in June. I’m currently doing taxotere and cytoxan chemotherapy. I so appreciate your article and blog. Your experience with chemo sounds a lot like mine. except I didn’t have to get a port and I’m only doing 4 rounds as a preventative for a recurrence (since I’m triple negative I can’t take anything like pills to prevent it from coming back). My husband shaved my head on day 13 after my first treatment. I have 2 wigs, a couple beanies, and ball caps that help me get through these “no hair” days. Your pictures are encouraging for me that mine will come back., eventually! This journey has been full of ups and downs, but My God has never failed me. He continuously blesses me and my family and I am forever grateful. Much love sent from Virginia!

    1. Hi Jessi,

      Thank you for reaching out. It sounds like we have a lot in common. I hope your kids are handling your diagnosis well…I’m sure it was so hard on them. Chemo isn’t fun while you’re in it, but I was so grateful for it once it was over. Your hair will be back before you know it! A good friend of mine was diagnosed with triple negative a few years ago, and she is doing great now! Hang in there and God bless!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *