Breast Cancer in my 20s
BY ELENA CORTES
Cancer, what an unpleasant word. Our stomachs churn just listening to it, it fills us with sadness and concerns but, above all, fear. Fear of the unknown, of what may happen to us. Fear of losing what we value so much but many times we do not give it enough importance: life.
My name is Elena and at 28 years-old I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that moment my life took a 180 degree turn. Whenever I tell my story I start with the same sentence: “I woke up healthy and I went to bed sick.” I was in the gym training when my doctor called me asking me to go to the clinic because the biopsy’s results hadn’t gone as expected. Without saying anything else, I already knew that cancer had knocked on my door. Still, I tried to fill myself with hope and consider they had made a mistake or that it was something else. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
I had the worst two weeks of my life dealing with tests, doctors, the uncertainty of not knowing how far the disease had reached and an avalanche of information so unknown and at the same time so real, since this disease visits many families each day, unfortunately. It’s at that moment when you realize that there’s still a big taboo that surrounds the disease and there’s also a lot of disinformation on the subject of cancer. I did not know what chemotherapy or radiotherapy would be like until I had it in my own flesh. I only knew that my hair was going to fall out.
Stella Maria Baer
The first day I had chemotherapy was the worst day of my life. Seeing me sitting in that chair with people who, like me, were fighting for their lives was a horrible experience. I cried like I had never cried before, but when I got home I took the bull by the horns, I looked at myself in the mirror and I swore I was going to beat this disease that had come to screw my life. And so I did, I confronted my process with a positive attitude, getting up after each fall and facing my situation even though at that time it wasn’t the best, but from which I had to survive regardless. I’m one of those people who believe if you wake up every day with a smile on your face you have already won the battle against this disease.
Your life changes a lot, you value it much more and you start noticing the little things that before were insignificant for you and what used to mean so much in your life stops being a priority. Your priority is to live, to survive every day, to go to your tests and wish everything goes well. You learn a lot and you really realize the inner strength you have.
Many people wonder how my parents and my friends faced this news. Well, I think no parent is ready to have a child who goes through this disease. In my case, my parents collapsed before the heartbreaking news but they never showed their sad emotions to me. They were always by my side for anything I needed, although the first day they cried with me, of course. The fight was mine, but they also participated in it and I will be eternally grateful for that.
As for my friends, and this may sound harsh, but this illness made me realize who was by my side and who wasn’t. People diagnosed with cancer don’t need their friends to be worried every day, because when we’re sick we don’t want them to ask us about the disease every single time they see us, sometimes we need to not talk about it in order to disconnect, but it’s a great moral support to know that you have people by your side, who are willing to make you laugh and get you out of the house when you need it most. Those gestures fill you up and make you feel better along the recovery process.
I’m one of those people who believe if you wake up every day with a smile on your face you have already won the battle against this disease.
I’m still suffering from some side effects, my short hair (which for me was the worst side effect of all), left arm pain since I got removed the sentinel node in the armpit to discard metastasis; memory loss which I hope to recover over time, tiredness and fatigue when I exercise or walk more than usual. Little by little, I’m improving. These are just some of the side effects that I have left, but after everything I have lived so far, I can endure and overcome the minor side effects, because today my body’s free of disease and that’s what really matters.
It was the worst chapter of my life, but today I can be proud of how I faced the situation and the people who accompanied me on this trip. I wouldn’t change a single thing about my attitude towards this illness because, if I’m being honest, I didn’t spend more than two minutes a day thinking on it. I had too many things to do so I didn’t let it take over my life, and that’s the key if you want to overcome cancer.
Now I’m a new Elena, who values and lives her life by the minute. Cancer changes your perspective of living and you begin to prioritize things. I have nothing to thank to this disease but if I’ve done something from the beginning it’s to see the silver lining. I learned to see the glass half full, I met great people, I appreciated even more those who supported me by being by my side and I also learned to lead my life in a different way. All because of cancer, yes, but I learned it.
Because of all this, I dedicated my Instagram account @byelenacortes to help raise awareness about this process, during and after the illness. I try to bring something new every day and keep on fighting so people will listen to us and become aware, so hopefully one day this disease stops being taboo, but above all, to fight it and someday erase it completely.
Finally, I would like to make a call to all women from different ages to self-explore themselves and get mammograms since it’s very important to discard any anomaly. Let’s say goodbye to the fears of going to the doctor and let’s get checked on a regular basis. Mammograms are recommended after the age of 40, and from my point of view this is a mistake because we are many women suffering from breast cancer in our twenties and thirties. You always believe it won’t happen to you until the doctor is calling you for a consultation like that day I was at the gym.
Breast cancer is one of the most researched illness in the world and with the most survivors, but it’s only possible if it’s detected in time. That’s why I make this call to take care of ourselves and to self-explore, hoping that the cases of breast cancer are more scarce day by day and that, one day, stops taking women, mothers and sisters’ lives.