Although it’s become alarmingly common to see breast cancer in older women, about nine percent of women diagnosed with the disease are under 40. Knowing the risk factors and symptoms for any woman is of utmost importance, but so is self-care. If you suspect something, trust your gut instincts, and get it checked out immediately. For young women who already have breast cancer, being your own advocate may be the best support for swift treatment.
Brittney Beadle was 18 when she first discovered a lump. Her mom and boyfriend accompanied her to the doctor, who sent her home with the words, “Eighteen year olds don’t get breast cancer.” Yet after three months, the lump had grown substantially causing her nipple to invert. A mammogram and ultrasound later, she found herself sitting in front of the same doctor who now put her hand on Beadle’s knee as she gave her the diagnosis.
She had a double mastectomy the same day as her senior prom.
“My best friend came to visit me in her little ball gown on the way to prom, and I’m sitting there in a hospital gown,” Beadle recalls. Weeks later, a PET scan revealed that her cancer had metastasized to her bones and liver and she immediately started treatment: chemotherapy in the morning, and high school graduation at night.
“I was so angry and talking to God – Why is this happening now? I’m 18 and I’m graduating…I’m supposed to be starting my life and you’re telling me it’s going to be ending?” The cancer moved to her brain, which was treated with radiation, as more progressions followed. But Beadle’s team switched her to new treatments, and she is now celebrating her life, eight years-post diagnosis. “It’s been a wild ride but I am super grateful for everything,” she says with a celebratory hands-up gesture and exuberant smile.
Beadle believes that her healthy lifestyle and spiritual practices, including receiving Reiki, and practicing yoga and meditation since she was fourteen, had somehow prepared her for her diagnosis. “Something inside me said, you’re going to be ok, and I trust that more than the thoughts in my head,” she says. “It’s that feeling of love, that feeling of God, that feeling of the universe…a strong knowingness that helps me to stay in peace and trust.”
Social media became one of Beadle’s best resources for information and support. “It was a perfect way to reach everybody at once, and then all of a sudden I realized there was this beautiful community of young people with breast cancer out there, so I just started connecting with them.” Beadle now has tens of thousands of followers on Instagram. “I truly believe that was my best resource because back then, I felt like there really wasn’t anything for someone who is young going through breast cancer.”
Breast cancer in younger women still remains rare, and as much as organizations are bringing new awareness to it, there still is a long way to go. Although the amount of diagnoses in women under 40 is increasing each year, there is still a gross underrepresentation in clinical trials. According to a study published in MDPI, there are distinct differences in the tumor pathology and treatment options for younger women, as most of the research has been on older populations. Those under 40 have additional fertility concerns, and tend to have more aggressive varieties, and worse prognoses. With the rise in cases, there is an immediate need for more information. And hope.
You could say that as a young woman with metastatic breast cancer, Beadle is the crown jewel of positive energy. She exudes courage and a zest for life. Thousands of her followers rave: “You are so brave, beautiful, and inspiring…an exceptional, remarkable gift…you are giving me a lot of positivity and inspiration…you are helping me through my own tough times…thank you for being a shining light…I truly, deeply, and passionately feel your optimism…a lot to learn from you…” Her gusto is contagious, as she leaps joyously through fields of lavender, snuggles with her dog in the sunshine, dances in gratitude for the body she has, and meditates during chemo treatments, all of which she documents on Instagram. Beadle’s message is simple: life is beautiful, be grateful for everything. “Keep your heart open,” she says. “Hope can go a long way. It brings the light into dark places and over time, turns into trust and belief that everything will be ok.” Sometimes the greatest source of information is inner wisdom. And hope.
Things To Know About Breast Cancer in Young Women
- Starting menstruation before age 12
- Having dense breasts
- Family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer
- Suspicious lumps
- Nipple changes
- Changes in skin
- Nipple discharge or bleeding
How to Take Action:
- Keep a healthy lifestyle by limiting alcohol, getting proper rest, exercising, eating a healthy diet, hydrating, staying mentally stimulated, and cultivating community.
- Know your family’s health history, and learn about genetic testing (BRCA1, BRCA2, and other gene mutations). Young women with a family history of any type of cancer – especially breast, ovarian, and prostate – are typically urged to have screenings earlier than the recommended 40 years old.
- Self-check your breasts on a regular basis so you get to know what is normal for you, and what is not.
- Make medical decisions that are the best for you and your life and lifestyle
- Some health care providers may dismiss the symptoms in younger women. Due to the rarity of breast cancer under 40, reject the “wait and see” diagnosis if you suspect anything, and instead, consult another doctor or insist on further testing. Early detection and treatment can significantly increase chances of survival.
Brittney’s Favorite Resources:
And Some of Our Faves:
- Young Survival Coalition
- Dana-Farber’s Young and Strong Program for Young Adults with Breast Cancer
- Bring Your Brave
- Imerman Angels
Contact your doctor for local references in your area of practitioners that offer yoga, meditation, Qi Gong, Reiki, reflexology, acupuncture, nutritionist counseling, therapy, massage, and physical therapy.