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The day before my 26th birthday I found out I had Breast Cancer

My story begins way back in middle school, when a volunteer (I wish I remembered her name) spoke during girl’s health class and taught us how to do self-breast exams and the importance of breast health.

Did I begin doing self-breast exams religiously after that? No – but I did start doing them consistently.

Roll forward to 1992, I’m now 25 and a mother of 3 and I feel a lump. Hmm, I thought…that’s new. I didn’t take action at that time but did keep up my monthly self-exams.

After 3 months I went to the Doctor…and he told me not to worry about it. After another 3 months – I went back again. Same “don’t worry” response. I waited another 4-6 months and went back – this time I got the, “to put your mind at ease I’ll send you to have it aspirated.”

By this time, I’m 26. Guess what, it couldn’t be aspirated.

Now, I’m escalated and sent the next day for a mammogram. The lab tech (a hero) was furious! She couldn’t believe that aspiration was attempted without a mammogram and now everything was so inflamed by so many attempts it made things more difficult.

I found a surgical oncologist and had my biopsy on December 16 – the day before my 27th birthday.

My life drastically changed at that moment on…mostly for the positive. Chemo was rough with an 8, 6 and 2-year-old. I’m not sure how we, my husband and I, would have been able to manage without the hands-on help and support of friends and family.

During my mid 30’s I did a fair amount of public speaking to raise awareness of breast health in the younger generation. I also spoke with Doctors – I have some hair-raising stories about what you shouldn’t do!

Around that time, I was also advocating to have breast health messages incorporate on period products. That offer was ultimately blocked by legal at that time. Perhaps I should try again.

Now in my early 50’s I speak individually with folks that are going through their own journey – sometimes it’s young mothers – just like I was.

There were so many every day heroes along my journey that inspired me – from the anaesthesiologist that held my hand and told me I would be okay after my surgeon said to my mother, “I’ve known a lot of people who had people pray from them that didn’t make it.” to the nurse that came into my room in the middle of the night to be a face of hope for me – she was a survivor too – the frozen food manager at the grocery that gave my husband a book that helped me through – to my mother that organized a calendar of helpers (heroes) to come stay with us and take care of my children when I was too weak.

Again, this experience transformed me in such a positive way that I am truly thriving every day.

Here’s an article I published on LinkedIn a while back: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/3-ways-creative-thinking-helped-me-thrive-after-my-battle-jenkins/

Natalie J.

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