I Have Breast Cancer, and I am asking you for a favor...

Sorry for the slap in the face headline but I needed to get your attention. You may have noticed that I haven't been posting recently. It's been a rough couple of weeks...turns out I have Stage 2/3 breast cancer. 

There is 4-5cm malignant tumor in my right breast and the tests I have done so far tell me that it is aggressive. 
I still have a bunch more tests before I know exactly what my treatment options will be but, because of my age, the size of the tumor and what they know about my cancer, there will definitely be chemo and a few surgeries. I'm still waiting on test results to see if it's spread to my lymph nodes and if I will need radiation.  Despite all of that the last two weeks for me have really crystallized one idea in my mind. I am lucky.   Yes, this situation is nothing if not absurd. I just turned 29 two weeks ago. I work out like a loon. I eat fresh, organic farmers market vegetables. Things like this are not supposed to happen to people like me. My mom keeps telling me over and over again that she wishes it was her instead of me. I don't. I am young, strong and otherwise healthy. I am going to come out of this just fine. I am also so so thoroughly and completely surrounded by love, support and offers of help from the most amazing group of friends, coworkers and family that it just blows me away. Every time I get a text message from someone telling me they are thinking about me and sending good vibes and asking to help, I feel stronger. When I get scared about what the coming months are going to hold, I just think about how I have easy access to all the hugs, company, good vibes, home-cooked meals, rides to procedures, help walking the dog, personal yoga lessons, hand holding, hair holding, jokes, back rubs and snuggles that a person in recovery could possibly need. I know my friends are just a text message away and I know that I can get through whatever is barreling my way because of that.  And I know for a fact that all this good energy is already helping me on the road to recovery. This outpouring of love and good energy literally drips off of me wherever I go. People can see it. I have seen approximately 1,547 doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and surgeons in the last two weeks. Each and everyone of them has either complimented me on my awesomeness as a patient or marveled at my attitude. They tell me over and over again that I am amazing and inspiring and that this, above all else, is why I am going to come out on the other end of this just fine.  Where does this attitude come from? Duh, didn't you read the earlier paragraph? It comes from you guys. I am taking all your love and support and text messages and phone calls and I am using them to prop me up when I want to be dark and defeatist, and wallow in self pity.  I feel your thoughts and your love and I know I am truly blessed in so many ways. You guys are getting me through the pain and the needles and the dizziness and fear with an attitude that amazes the people who see other people going through this all the time.  Basically you guys are saving my life. Now I want to save yours.  I want you to promise me you are going to start doing monthly exams. I want it in writing in the comment section below. I want you to share this with your friends and make them promise you (or me) that they are going to do exams too. Send me a text message or an email that says, "Dena, I promise to start doing monthly boob exams."I want all this crap I am going through to count for something. I need to know that it's not all for nothing and that while you guys are taking care of me, I can also take care of you. The good news is that nobody is saying I am gonna die. In fact, my doctor told me flat out, "Nobody dies of breast cancer." It's probably going to be a yucky couple of months but I'm not going anywhere. However, while the last two weeks have been physically and emotionally painful in more private ways than even I want to share on the internet,  at the end of the day the scariest thing I've learned so far  is that none of you guys think you would do it.  
The very first thing I hear from people when I tell them I have cancer is "How did you find it?" This is usually followed by some variation of  "Wait, you do that? I have never even thought about doing that."
I love you guys but this response makes me want to simultaneously hug you/feel you up/smack you in the face.
So while regular mammograms are how they usually find cancer in older women, unfortunately the test just doesn't work well for young women. We young women have these perky breasts because our breasts are made up of mostly  breast tissue. As we age this tissue is replaced by fat, which looks black in a mammogram.Thick, dense breast tissue looks white in a mammogram. So does cancerous tissue. When you get older, the white cancer spots shows up loud and clear. When you're young they don't show up as well. So young women don't get mammograms, but they do get breast cancer. 

Thank you for all of your love and support, and for taking care of yourself.
Lots of love, 

I'm gonna say that again, our best and only option is to know yourself.
Do you shower? Maybe just pay attention to your body. 
It only takes about 5 minutes to know what they feel like normally. Then you just notice is something feels different.  
In fact is is really easy to fing volunteers to help. ;)
Trust me - when I found this thing and felt the change in my breast I knew something was wrong and I got in to see my doctor the next day. This probably saved my life. 
I hate to throw out trope like "it's important to know your body" but when you have a stomach ache you know something is off and you fix it. Why should your chest be any different?
Don't wait, don't be scared, just do it. I am asking you, begging you really, to promise me that you will start paying attention. The odds are in your favor that you are not going to find anything, but it will make ME feel so much better. And I know you guys all just want to make me feel better, right? 



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  2. I'm a friend of Jolie O'Dell's. I read it and I promise! Good luck in the coming months! I don't know you personally, but I'm sending good vibes and prayers.


  3. Dena- Wanted to let you know that the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LIVESTRONG) offers support, both financial and emotional, to those affected by cancer. If you would like to talk to someone that has been through treatment or need help making up your mind on a treatment regiment, we can help with that too. Please call 1-855-220-7777 or send us a message through http://bit.ly/lsform. We're here for you.

  4. Hola Dena, Soy de Lima PEru. Es lindo y admirar lo que escribes, yo no paso por el mejor momento de mi vida. Pero tus palabras me reconfortan mucho, Rezare mucho por ti y aunque no me conozcas ten mucha fe en DIOS. El nos ilumina nos Guia y nos cuida siempre.

    "Dena, me comprometo a comenzar a hacer los exámenes mensuales a los senos y gracias por contar tu historia, Dios siempre te ilumine y te Bendiga siempre.

    Mucha suerte Dena.

    Cuidate mucho!
    Todo saldrá bien!

    Un millos de abrazos.

    Milulu Urbina.

  5. I read this after Drew Olanoff shared it on Google+. This post shows the value of a good support system. And the post is even educational - I didn't know all the younger breast/older breast mammogram stuff.

    Good luck over the next few months!

  6. Good luck Dena! You've got some rough times ahead but it is all doable. I had stage 3b/c a couple years ago and it was in my lymph nodes as well, but I'm still here! My humor is what got me through and great friends. I constantly encourage all my friends to do self-exams monthly, not wait for that once a year one. My prayers and best wishes go out to you. It's a sucky thing!

  7. You are an inspiration Dena. I will pray for you daily. I will be going through treatment at the same time so you will also be in my daily positive thoughts.

  8. Beautiful Dena, I don't know you personally either but I wish I did because we all need more Dena's in our lives! Every sentence in your post makes me want to give you a big hug, not out of pity - out of pure admiration and respect! I promise to do my monthly check-ups. Kick that tumor's ass lady and remember all of us examining our boobs, thanks to you.

  9. Sending you positive thoughts!! I went through all this at the age of 30 (a year ago). Please message me if you have any questions or just want to rant. Having someone to talk it over with helped me a lot while I was going through all my treatments. Also, I blogged about my experience, if you would like to read it: tinyurl.com/ElitaTzik Good luck with everything! :) Stay strong!

    I found your blog via Xeni Jardin on twitter.

  10. Dena Dear,
    Violet, Gideon, Ruby & I all have the fondest memories of you at camp and of your yellow sportscar.
    We are with you in spirit, and are sending warm, positive, and loving thoughts, encouragement and hugs.
    Much love from Boss Lady & her family.

  11. Hi Dena,

    The Philippine Breast Cancer Network (PBCN) does not advise mammography for all women, whatever age. Aside from having a high margin of error (20%-40%), it can cause breast cancer itself. This is why we have been using thermal breast imaging for more than ten years now and we have had very encouraging results, especially for women in your age group. Do visit us at www.pbcn.org You may wish to get in contact with our friends in SFO: Breast Cancer Action and The Breast Cancer Fund (you can google their website). Wish you well Dena!

  12. Bravo for your courage and fabulously positive attitude. I am shocked to hear the news, but heartened to hear that you're dealing with it in such a proactive way. I've been doing regular self exams for year but admit that "fibrous" tissue sometimes gives me a fright because it feels suspiciously "lumpy". At your helpful prompting, I'll read through the tips shared on the self-exam link. Thank you for sharing it and for being such an advocate to make your experience make a difference in the healthy lives of others.
    Sending you all sorts of smiles and well wishes!!!!
    --Gabrielle Miller

  13. Go, Dena! I promise to give Robi daily exams :)

  14. I read your blog after I saw Brady Gils f/b post. You are truly fabulous. Know that all those friends of yours feel better when they can help. Thank you for telling young women to check their breasts. I did at 28 and found a lump that ended up benign. I am so glad I found the lump, scary as the process was. I hope all my daughters and nieces are reading this and doing monthly checks.
    I don't know you but be strong, you are in my thoughts as well. ~/jeannie

  15. THANK YOU, goddess sister. You are an inspiration. You are beautiful inside and out. Your story is powerful and speaks to me. I know Ariel and saw her post on Facebook.

    I left the US 4 years ago (pretty much) to live my true purpose in life. The majority of my life until then was spent in hospitals, sick with a rare autoimmune disease. I have very powerful dreams and my dreams are mirrors of what is happening in my life and have, once or twice, predicted my future. Recently while I was in Bali I had a very vivid dream: I was in a pharmacy in Thailand with a friend trying to get medicine that I need (for the autoimmune disease). I was explaining to the nurse the reason I had left the USA was because I couldn't afford the healthcare/ didn't have access to the healthcare system, and I had breast cancer. Dreams are not always clear cut, and often what we see is symbolic for real life, but there is a reason this specific illness came to me from subconscious.

    I think it is possible if I had not left the US, had not followed my true purpose in life, I may have ended up with breast cancer and this dream was a reminder to me to stay on my path. You are a reminder to me; you are brave and strong in the face of a terrifying illness. Your story is also a huge wake up call to do a monthly exam. I live in developing countries where I barely get a check up and I diagnose myself if something is wrong.

    I will spread word and do what I can to support you. You are a shining light, shine on beauty. Sending love from Asia.

  16. Hi Dena. I heard of you through my friend Sara. I want to wish you well and say that I hope you continue to find things every day that make you happy. Though I don't really know you, I know that you're awesome. Sending love from Manhattan, James.

  17. I solemnly swear. In fact, I already do them all of the time. :-) <3 I am pulling for the best possible outcome with the least invasive treatment program! <3

    (I heard about your blog from Stirrup Queens)

  18. Dena we have never met, but I found your blog through the Tawonga facebook community and I wanted to express how genuinely inspired I am by your words and the way in which you are handling this challenging time. I wish you all the best and am sending good Tawonga vibes your way. Thank you for being an inspiration and keep being a phenomenal woman.

  19. Dena - my heart goes out to you and I promise to do my monthly exam. I am also of the ripe age where I am getting annual mammograms as well. Breast cancer runs in my family and I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers every step of the way. You have to promise me that when you are in recovery, I will see your bright and shining face in one of my classes again at the JCC sporting the cutest pixie cut to showcase your beautiful smile. All of the good you have done will come full circle, ten-fold. Please let me know if you need anything. xo, Amy Guzman

  20. Hi Dena, I am so encouraged by your monthly breast exams pledge, I am in! But you need to promise me to do yearly pap smear :-) I am sorry that you have to go through this and I wish you the best of luck with your recovery! Hang in there!
    I wrote a blog post about my cervical cancer battle due to not having a health insurance and not being able to do pap smear for years which backfired on me badly. But the good news is that I am cancer free now :-) http://www.czechvegan.blogspot.com/2012/10/goodbye-cancer.html Hugs! Elisabeth

  21. Breast cancer is one of dangerous disease among the women.Your information is really helpful for the all women.Thank you for giving such a valuable information.
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