Anita Young is a young, full-time contractor and IT manager at Volkswagen Group of America in New Baltimore, Michigan. She’s also a full-time mother of two beautiful girls, ages five and seven and wife, and until late September of 2010 enjoyed what she describes as “a pretty normal life of a working mom.”
In the spring of last year she found a lump in her breast during a routine self-exam. At first Anita ignored it—it felt similar to that of previous infections she’d had while nursing her children. As time progressed, however, the lump grew and so did her concern. After a couple of months she scheduled a mammogram and the diagnosis brought her “normal life” to a crashing halt: Stage IIIA triple negative breast cancer.
Anita worked closely with her doctors at William Beaumont hospital in Troy, MI. The ability to speak to her entire team—oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgeon and nurses—together at once was extremely helpful to her. By the beginning of October Anita had undergone a lumpectomy, as well as a lymphadenectomy to control the cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. In November she began her five-month course of chemotherapy treatment, closely followed by six-and-a-half weeks of radiation treatment in mid-April of this year.
The greatest challenge for Anita wasn't treatment, though. Rather, it was the thought of her children’s future—“I didn’t want to die and leave my daughters behind,” she says. She admits that treatment was a difficult time, and that she took comfort from the unswerving and exceptional support from both her husband and parents. Despite this support, treatment made her lethargic and her time was inevitably consumed by sleep—time she wishes was better spent with her kids.
Ironically, Anita’s second challenge arose from her initial support groups. She couldn’t help but notice she was consistently the youngest person present at every session. This made her increasingly aware that she could not relate to “the typical cancer patient”1 in ways meaningful to her and her age group. Eventually, the nurse navigator assigned to Anita at Beaumont hospital recommended Gilda’s Club in Royal Oak, MI—an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community (CSC). “There’s a group there called ‘the rack pack,’ ” Anita laughs, which is a group designed specifically for women in their 20s and 30s diagnosed with breast cancer. She visited “the rack pack” towards the end of her chemo treatment and to her delight, discovered that “it’s a really great group…it was a group that, for me, was the perfect group.”
Anita attends “rack pack” group sessions regularly, where she feels she can discuss topics that have resonance with everyone. Together, members create a positive ambiance—asking one another questions, sharing advice and uniting in laughter. “The first thing is that it gives you a ‘hey, I’m not alone and this is normal for what I’m going through’,” she recounts. Anita continues to remain involved with Gilda’s Club. In fact, she and her fellow “rack pack” comrades are participating in a fundraiser called “Bras for a Cause” next month to benefit the Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit. The event features an “art bra show” in which bras—designed and created by artists, breast cancer survivors, as well as the friends and families of survivors—are modeled by the survivors themselves and auctioned off to bidders.
Through reaching out to others on Facebook, Anita got wind of the CSC’s Cancer Survivor Registry’s Breast Cancer M.A.P. (Mind Affects the Physical) Project and registered in June of this year to become a participant. She is currently taking part in an ongoing clinical trial. Her hope is that the trial will find something that can help her and others in her situation. She extends the same hope for the M.A.P. Project—“I don’t want my daughters to go through what I’m going through, so whatever I can do to help the greater cause, I want to be a part of, so that this isn’t their future.”
Looking back, she has no regrets. Cancer has transformed the way Anita views life. “The little things don’t bother me. I don’t take a day for granted,” she says. She admits, however, “I was so afraid that I really rushed the surgery and the chemo…I helped propel that more than my doctors did.” Her advice? —“Slow down a little bit, you didn't get it over night. Take time to think out what you’re supposed to do. Make sure you really understand all your treatment options and what you’re about to go through.”
Looking toward the future, Anita eagerly anticipates a long life with her husband and daughters. With her personal “I can do this, I can beat this” doctrine, she perseveres with the intention of raising her girls—awaiting the pleasure of seeing them graduate and wed, and eventually the pleasure of becoming a grandmother.
The M.A.P. Project is an initiative launched by the CSC’s Cancer Survivorship Research and Training Institute, designed to discern and address the emotional and social needs that accompany a breast cancer diagnosis. Through joining the registry, women are offered a unique opportunity to help guide and inform research directed at ameliorating the breast cancer experience. The M.A.P Project strives to grasp the full impact of breast cancer, and to propel research forward in ultimately improving the lives of millions touched by cancer. This research initiative is made possible through a generous grant from the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund. For further information or to join the movement, click here.
Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit is an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community and provides a space for both cancer patients and their families to take sanctuary. Programs are free and include networking and support groups, education workshops, health and lifestyle classes and social activities. Guests will find support, companionship, education, and above all, hope. The CSC urges cancer patients to fight for their recovery through active participation in their treatments.
Click here to find a Cancer Support Community affiliate near you
The average age at diagnosis for breast cancer is 61 years.
American Cancer Society, Inc. (2009). Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2009-2010. Retrieved August 8, 2011 from http://www.cancer.org/Research/CancerFactsFigures/BreastCancerFactsFigures/breast-cancer-facts--figures-2009-2010