- by Kamya Ghose
– by Kamya Ghose

Ch 1: Ugly Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 23 is highly unlikely, but possible. It happened to me.
While enjoying a session at the gym one day I realized there was something different about the way one of my breasts felt.
A quick check showed there was definitely a little lump there. “It’s probably nothing”, I thought. I’m fit, I’m healthy, I don’t smoke or use drugs… what could possibly go wrong? Two ultrasounds and a painful biopsy later I was given the most dreaded news I have ever been given. Being in Christchurch with family on a break from University at AUT, I was looking forward to heading back for the second semester, to the sunshine… and to my friends. This was not to be.
My GP had diagnosed me with “high grade DCIS”. “DC what?” I thought. “Ductal Carcinoma in situ” said Google, later. And what does that mean for me? Will I need surgery? “Don’t worry, you’re young” they said unconvincingly. I did worry. In fact I did a lot more than worry.
Mum and I left the doctors’ in disbelief. Surely this was some sort of mistake. As the days crept on, visits to the surgeon and the hospital became routine. There was no mistake, it was all go. Surgery was increasingly becoming a real possibility. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I felt sick with dread… why me? How could this possibly be happening to me? What have I ever done wrong with my body? I have always been lean and fit, I eat clean… I have never taken my good health for granted. So why me?
I never have and never will want surgery. Who does? I just wanted to go back to the normality I had enjoyed so recently. Needless to say that was far from what was coming. I was going to have a mastectomy. At 23 I was going to walk into that hospital and have my left breast completely removed. Having had a past free of medical problems of any sort, the idea of being cut open filled me with dread.
Although I had great support from family and friends who came from around the world to be with me, in hindsight what I really lacked was the comforting wisdom of someone who had been through this before. Who else would truly know what this felt like? I needed someone who I could identify with, someone who was close to my age. It was then, I had realized in the most numbing way, the stereotype of breast cancer existing in mature women was deeply mistaken.
My surgery was successful and I clearly impressed those concerned with the speed of my recovery. I was at the gym again in 3 weeks! However, my biggest challenge yet was descending upon me.

Ch 2: Sexy lingerie

Finding myself a bra that was comfortable and that made me feel sexy once again had suddenly turned into a herculean task. I wanted to continue to define myself as a woman; not a cancer patient with one boob. The process was an uphill struggle to say the least, surely finding a well-fitting bra that would hold a prosthetic shouldn’t be this hard? Am I the only person my size who has ever had a mastectomy? Granted I am smaller than the average 23 year old, but I wanted to wear pretty, colorful bras… not the ones from the 1950’s that were repeatedly thrust in my face in ugly styles and non-trendy colours. What stung me the most were the ladies who handed them to me. The initial disbelief then condescending sympathy by double-breasted women at the retail outlets was the last thing I needed. I struggled to find anything that would even fit, let alone be appealing to look at and make me feel sexy.

I know that there is plenty of support available for people dealing with cancer on both ends of the spectrum, Children, Middle aged and elderly. But for a young woman in her 20’s first diagnosed with breast cancer… sadly things have been a little more than just difficult. I am not a child, I did not need to be told that my situation was ok and that everything would be fine when quite frankly it was not; it is not ok to have breast cancer at any age, especially at 23. What I needed was to be told what to expect, to hear those intricate little details from someone who had been through this before, with no filter and at a relatable age. Naturally at age 23, I needed some support from someone who wouldn’t have settled for anything less than to feel sexy again.

Ch 3: Finding Purpose

My goal now is to help young women who have been through or are going through this, so that they have someone who can really relate to them when they are going through this dreadful life threatening experience. I want to be that someone who they can share their thoughts with; that someone they can shop for their sexy lingerie or bikinis with! I want there to be a greater awareness that this is a disease that affects younger women too; that breast cancer is not simply a disease restricted to the more mature. I could have done without the isolation, the disbelief and the sympathy. I could have done with someone who really knew.

If you’re a younger woman with a diagnosis, send me a message and we will get through it together.

*The writer is a commercial pilot, a university student, a fitness enthusiast and a cancer survivor. She currently resides in Auckland, New Zealand.

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