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What I Wish I Knew About Breast Cancer in My 20s

Knowledge Is Power—at Every Age

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Breast cancer is a terrifying specter in any girl's life. For good reason—it's the most common cancer in women in the U.S., and one in eight of us will get it in our lifetimes. But some of us take solace in the fact that the average woman is diagnosed at age 61. Breast cancer is a disease for older people, right? Not so much. In fact, thousands of women in their twenties and thirties get diagnosed every year. Worse, breast cancer can be even more disastrous in younger women, since we're often not looking for symptoms and may brush off early warning signs.

This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has started the Bring Your Brave campaign—to bring awareness to how the illness affects young women. So to help do just that, six brave young women who've had to face down their personal breast cancer demons (either through battling the illness or testing positive for the gene mutations thought to cause it) shared with us what they wish they knew about breast cancer in their twenties.

Photo: Shutterstock

It's Okay to Be Scared

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"When I was first diagnosed, I didn't know how to feel or act, or what to say. I was kind of just numb to the world. And to be honest, sometimes I still am. But it's OK to cry, and show emotion. And it's OK to be scared. We're human. I think blogging, or keeping a journal or diary is the best, most therapeutic way of getting your emotions out. Blogging has brought me such peace and helped me help others too!" —Allie, diagnosed at age 27. (Know someone battling the disease? Check out these Gift Ideas for Women Fighting Breast Cancer.)

Photo: Allie Colon

Young Women Get Breast Cancer Too

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"Breast cancer is not just a disease that affects grandmothers and older women. Young women are at risk as well, and since taking a look at my family's risk factors, I've been able to take a proactive stance against the disease. Early detection is possible no matter how old you are!" —Amy, tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation at age 31

Photo: CDC

Breast Cancer Changes Your Whole Life, Even After You're Healed

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"I wish I had known just how far-reaching the effects of a breast cancer diagnosis are. Sure, there's all the treatment and emotional turmoil surrounding that, but I didn't realize that breast cancer would change my perspective on life as a whole and that it would play a role in future decisions like those regarding my career, my relationships, family planning, and diet and exercise habits. Now I appreciate the little things in life more. I've even started a young survivors support group to share what I've learned." —Cara, diagnosed at age 25

Photo: CDC

You Become Part of a Sisterhood

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"I wish I had known that the sisterhood that I unintentionally joined would be so incredibly knowledgeable, strong, and supportive. I might have saved myself a sleepless night or two in the days immediately following my diagnosis. Women who have experienced the ups and downs of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are some of the bravest women I have had the honor of knowing." —Carletta, diagnosed age 41

Photo: CDC

Genetic Testing Can Be Empowering

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"When I was thinking about getting tested for the BRCA gene mutation, I had a lot of anxiety. But finding out my lifetime risk of breast cancer wasn't anything to be fearful of or anxious about. In fact, it was a relief and ultimately empowering. I chose a preventive bilateral mastectomy and removal of my ovaries, and I've also made a whole host of healthy lifestyle changes. I am healthier today than I was before becoming aware I carried a mutated BRCA gene. And I don't have to worry about getting breast cancer." —Cassie, tested positive for the BRCA mutation and had preventative surgery at age 32. (If you're questioning the test yourself, don't miss our story: Should You Get Genetic Testing?)

Photo: CDC

You Have Options

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"I wish I would have realized sooner that because of my family history, I was at higher risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer. But I also wish I had known that it wasn't a given I was going to get breast and ovarian cancer. I had options." —Jacqueline, tested positive for the BRCA mutation and had preventative surgery at age 35

Photo: CDC


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