1. First, we'd love to learn more about you. Please share your name, age, and, if you're comfortable, your date of diagnosis and remission.

My name is Maria I was diagnosed earlier this year, at age 38.

2. At what stage were you initially diagnosed? Did your diagnosis change, and if so, how did it evolve?

 I was diagnosed at stage 3. The diagnosis didn’t really change - they didn’t want to stage me until they had all the scans and test results they could get.

3. How was the cancer initially detected? For example, through a breast self-exam (BSE), a clinical breast exam (CBE), or an annual mammogram?

 My bizarre story is that I went to the ER with severe panic attacks. While I was there, I mentioned that I had some swelling on my left breast and through an ultrasound, they found a mass they wanted to take another look at, and I was referred to further testing.

4. How did you feel when you first received the news?

I got my diagnosis two weeks or so after that first ultrasound. I did all my terror crying that day in the ER. At diagnosis, I mainly apologized to my family – we had just lost my mother to neuro-endocrine tumors the previous spring, and here I was doing this them! Fortunately, my family was great and refused to accept my sense of guilt in the matter.

5. Is there a history of breast cancer in your family?

 Yes, on both sides. I knew about my paternal grandfather (I know!) having had breast cancer, but I had no clue it was on my mother’s side as well. Great-aunts and cousins and so on. I would have sought out more regular scans, much earlier, if I had known the full history there.

6. Did you have a support network? If not, how and where did you find support?

My family has been amazing, and I am fortunate to have a very understanding and supportive job! I am also a member of a breast cancer survivor/thriver groups on Facebook and take part in local cancer care exercise and support group.

7. Could you share more about your treatment process?

 16 total rounds of chemotherapy so far, which will be followed by surgery and radiation. My cancer is genetic, so we are salting the earth here.

8. Were you offered any programs or services to assist with the treatment process?

My local hospital arranged for me to have a free oncology massage and introduced me to my cancer care exercise and support group. I also met with a very helpful volunteer who previously survived breast cancer, and she has been so helpful and kind! And I have a Patient Navigator who does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to scheduling appointments.

9. Could you please share a challenging part of your journey and describe what was helpful in overcoming it?

Time and anxiety were my main obstacles. Getting out of panic mode was very hard and getting anything started felt impossible. Going to my patient navigator for assistance, and learning some anti-anxiety breathing tips, were both incredibly helpful.

10. How have you changed since your diagnosis?

I swear I became shorter by the month. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. I am also more positive than I used to be, you kind of must be, after diagnosis. For me it was either “be positive” or “hide in a blanket fort in your room and hope nothing hurts”, and while I do have a lot of very nice blankets, the fort thing was never going to work out. I have a cat, for a start.

11. What would be your nugget of advice to women under 40?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your extended family regarding past diagnoses.