Coping with Breast Cancer as a Young Adult

Young women and breast cancer HangoutYoung women with breast cancer face many unique emotional challenges: They may be in college, dating, starting a career, raising a family, or trying to start one.

“Cancer disrupts many aspects of young adulthood such as family planning, careers, relationships, sexuality, and sexual health,” said Karen Fasciano, PsyD, clinical psychologist and director of Dana-Farber’s Young Adult Program, who recently joined four young women in different stages of breast cancer treatment to discuss their experiences.

During a Google+ Hangout, Heidi Floyd, Nadia Tase, Danielle Ameden, and Beverly McKee, MSW, LCSW, shared with viewers the challenges they faced, ways they found support for themselves and loved ones during treatment, how breast cancer changed their worldviews, and advice for others in similar situations.

“For me, one of the biggest challenges was the loss of innocence,” said McKee, addressing a challenge many young adults with cancer face. “Cognitively we know we’re not going to live forever, but you don’t put any thought into planning the future until all of a sudden you’re faced with mortality.”

All four women emphasized the importance of having a strong support network during treatment, which may include family, friends, partners, or mental health professionals.

“I don’t know if I could’ve done it by myself,” said Ameden, who was diagnosed when she was 29. “[My fiancée and I] actually got engaged during my chemo treatment. Even when I was bald and scarred and sick, he still wanted to marry me.”

Watch the full Hangout below:

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5 thoughts on “Coping with Breast Cancer as a Young Adult

  1. Thank you for sharing this great article. As a newly diagnoses breast cancer patient this summer I felt very lost in a medical world of mostly older patients. At 27, with no kids, the issues and challenges I faced were/are very different from many of the other patients. I think it’s so important to shed light on these challenges and the “new” face of this disease. During my treatment I found writing to be therapeutic and found that sharing my story and connect with others facing similar challenges brought my hope and inspiration. I would love to have you check out my writing at mycancerchic.com. Through sharing our stories and bringing awareness to this demographic I think we can make great change and improvements to the care that is available to young women and the resources that are provided.

  2. My husband left me about two years after I was diagnosed (any earlier would’ve looked very “unseemly”, and he prides himself on being a “nice guy”). The divorce was worse than the cancer!! I had already lost my breast and – in my opinion at the time- my looks. Now I was losing my financial security, my home – even my health insurance! I had to move to another city so I could live with my parents, as I had nowhere else to go (I’d stopped working and had no income). I had to put all my furniture and beloved items I’d collected all over the world in storage, along with many of my clothes. I left my friends and my support network. I alternatively felt like a 12 year old in my parents’ home and the oldest newly 42-year-old in the world. Since I’d had a complete hysterectomy the year before (including having my ovaries removed), I was in full-blown menopause. I still had lots of residual weight from the steroids in my chemo, I felt ugly, abandoned, and terrified: I literally had to start my entire life over. Slowly – SO slowly- I did that very thing. But I had many setbacks, including a second bout with breast cancer. This time I had a double mastectomy and concurrent reconstruction. But I definitely felt like “damaged goods” from a dating perspective. Interestingly enough, my hair grew back with a vengeance, longer than ever before. The weight took years to lose, but lose it I did. I opted for smaller implants with this reconstruction, and I felt they made me look more like my original, pre-cancer self. These changes didn’t attract anyone to date. They simply made me more attractive to MYSELF. And confidence can be very attractive. One night, I was feeling a little crazy, and I ended up posting a profile on an Internet dating site. I received close to 100 messages from interested parties, and that made me feel better about myself as well. I only met two of those 100 people, but long story short, I ended up dating one of those men for a year and a half. I’m not going to say it was easy. He wasn’t sure how he’d handle my health issues. I wasn’t sure how I’d handle dating again. But I was finally starting to view myself as a woman again, not just a breast cancer survivor (no small feat, and something of which to be proud – though it took me several years to get there). We eventually got married, and I officially “started over” in the marriage department at age 47. It hasn’t been easy in the least. It’s hard to live with someone new the older you get. Being menopausal, we have had several sexual issues with which to contend. And we both had a bit more baggage than first-timers. I’m not going to lie and say that my life is fuller now than it was when I was well-of, unafraid and young, and newly married to my first husband. My gains haven’t “filled in” my losses. But I AM more “whole” than I ever imagined I’d be again. I also have s greater appreciation for my blessings, and I don’t take them for granted like I used to. My relationship with God has become deeper and more meaningful, and I’m more compassionate and supportive of others. Do I wish I’d never gotten cancer and never been abandoned? Absolutely!! I completely lost the ability to dream and imagine a future for myself. With the changes that have occurred, the restoration of my hope is my most treasured gift of all.

    • Dear Jennifer —
      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story and your insights with our readers. Wishing you all the best in your journey.

  3. It is great that her boyfriend became her fiancé and stuck with her through treatment, but what about all of the women who lose their partners. Statistics show that the majority of women, when they go through breast cancer, lose their significant other. Those are the women that need guidance and support. How do women who has survived breast cancer start all over and date again? Where is the advice and support for those women?

  4. It is great that her boyfriend became her fiancé and stuck with her through treatment, but what about all of the women who lose their partners. Statistics show that the majority of women, when they go through breast cancer, lose their significant other. Those are the women that need guidance and support. How do women who has survived breast cancer start all over and date again? Where is the advice and support for those women?

    1. Dear Aliza – Thanks for your comment. We understand these women’s experiences are not those of all women diagnosed with cancer, and that cancer can and does have a negative impact on many relationships. We have several other posts that address this topic that you might find helpful:

      http://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2013/08/swf-bald-undergoing-chemo-and-radiation/
      http://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2015/02/dating-advice-from-young-adults-with-cancer/
      http://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2012/07/dating-again-%E2%80%93-tips-for-cancer-survivors/

      We also have a psychosocial oncology program that offer support groups and individual counseling for those going through cancer, and a sexual health program that addresses many of these relationship changes: http://www.dana-farber.org/sexualhealth.

      We hope this is helpful and wish you all the best.

  5. My husband left me about two years after I was diagnosed (any earlier would’ve looked very “unseemly”, and he prides himself on being a “nice guy”). The divorce was worse than the cancer!! I had already lost my breast and – in my opinion at the time- my looks. Now I was losing my financial security, my home – even my health insurance! I had to move to another city so I could live with my parents, as I had nowhere else to go (I’d stopped working and had no income). I had to put all my furniture and beloved items I’d collected all over the world in storage, along with many of my clothes. I left my friends and my support network. I alternatively felt like a 12 year old in my parents’ home and the oldest newly 42-year-old in the world. Since I’d had a complete hysterectomy the year before (including having my ovaries removed), I was in full-blown menopause. I still had lots of residual weight from the steroids in my chemo, I felt ugly, abandoned, and terrified: I literally had to start my entire life over. Slowly – SO slowly- I did that very thing. But I had many setbacks, including a second bout with breast cancer. This time I had a double mastectomy and concurrent reconstruction. But I definitely felt like “damaged goods” from a dating perspective. Interestingly enough, my hair grew back with a vengeance, longer than ever before. The weight took years to lose, but lose it I did. I opted for smaller implants with this reconstruction, and I felt they made me look more like my original, pre-cancer self. These changes didn’t attract anyone to date. They simply made me more attractive to MYSELF. And confidence can be very attractive. One night, I was feeling a little crazy, and I ended up posting a profile on an Internet dating site. I received close to 100 messages from interested parties, and that made me feel better about myself as well. I only met two of those 100 people, but long story short, I ended up dating one of those men for a year and a half. I’m not going to say it was easy. He wasn’t sure how he’d handle my health issues. I wasn’t sure how I’d handle dating again. But I was finally starting to view myself as a woman again, not just a breast cancer survivor (no small feat, and something of which to be proud – though it took me several years to get there). We eventually got married, and I officially “started over” in the marriage department at age 47. It hasn’t been easy in the least. It’s hard to live with someone new the older you get. Being menopausal, we have had several sexual issues with which to contend. And we both had a bit more baggage than first-timers. I’m not going to lie and say that my life is fuller now than it was when I was well-of, unafraid and young, and newly married to my first husband. My gains haven’t “filled in” my losses. But I AM more “whole” than I ever imagined I’d be again. I also have s greater appreciation for my blessings, and I don’t take them for granted like I used to. My relationship with God has become deeper and more meaningful, and I’m more compassionate and supportive of others. Do I wish I’d never gotten cancer and never been abandoned? Absolutely!! I completely lost the ability to dream and imagine a future for myself. With the changes that have occurred, the restoration of my hope is my most treasured gift of all.

    1. Dear Jennifer —
      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story and your insights with our readers. Wishing you all the best in your journey.

  6. Thank you for sharing this great article. As a newly diagnoses breast cancer patient this summer I felt very lost in a medical world of mostly older patients. At 27, with no kids, the issues and challenges I faced were/are very different from many of the other patients. I think it’s so important to shed light on these challenges and the “new” face of this disease. During my treatment I found writing to be therapeutic and found that sharing my story and connect with others facing similar challenges brought my hope and inspiration. I would love to have you check out my writing at mycancerchic.com. Through sharing our stories and bringing awareness to this demographic I think we can make great change and improvements to the care that is available to young women and the resources that are provided.

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