Living With Joy—And Finding Love—In Spite of a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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Written By Paklay Zablay

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I found my lump in February of 2015, while I was still in high school. It was protruding out of my right breast as if it wanted to be found. I mentioned the lump to my mom, and she immediately made an appointment for me to see a breast specialist, who gave me an ultrasound and a mammogram. “There is a mass, but you’re 18 years old, and 18-year-olds don’t get breast cancer,” she said as she handed me a piece of paper with the word “fibroadenoma” on it and sent me home.

Three months later, in May, I noticed the lump had grown significantly and was causing my nipple to invert. My mom made me another appointment with the same specialist, and a second ultrasound and mammogram confirmed that the original lump had grown—as had four other lumps. She biopsied the lump, and the very next day (on May 6, 2015), she called me into the hospital. In a little room, the breast specialist sat down, put her hand on my knee, and confirmed that I did have breast cancer. (Yes, as an 18-year-old.) I had a double mastectomy a week later, the day of my senior prom.

I was told I was cancer-free after the mastectomy, but a follow-up PET scan a week later showed the cancer was metastatic, or stage IV—it had already spread to my bones and liver. (Since then, it’s spread to my brain and lungs, too.) The oncologist explained that metastatic breast cancer isn’t curable, but it is treatable. My soul crumbled when I heard the words “not curable.”

I ran out of the room, through the hallway, and wound up crying in a garden. When I was ready, I made my way back into the little room and heard the words that would get me through this diagnosis: “I have patients with your same diagnosis who have been alive and well since the ’90s,” the doctor said. “There are more and more treatments coming out all the time. The future is bright.” I decided right then and there that I would be one of those people.

A few days later I had my first chemo treatment in the morning. Later that night, I put on my cap and gown and stood on stage with my classmates at our high school graduation. I remember the speeches about how “our future is here” and wondering, in the back of my mind, if I even had one. (Spoiler alert: I did. And it’s more beautiful than I could have imagined!)

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