A cancer diagnosis changes everything. I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer a month after attending my 10-year high school reunion. I was 28 years old. My friends and I were all in different stages of our lives. But we weren’t thinking about breast cancer stages. Some were starting out in their careers, some were getting married, others were starting businesses.
I was proud of them. I was proud of us.
The Isolation of Breast Cancer in Your 20s
Despite what the statistics about breast cancer say, when I first learned of my diagnosis—I felt alone. Although they were compassionate and concerned, none of my friends could relate. I was 28 years old with breast cancer. I felt like my world stopped and life for my friends went on. They were experiencing vacations and promotions, while I was sitting in a blue chemo recliner, preparing for a mastectomy. I didn’t understand how we had just been together laughing, discussing our plans and reminiscing on the good times and now—I was a cancer patient.
“Although they were compassionate and concerned, none of my friends could relate. They were experiencing vacations and promotions, while I was sitting in a blue chemo recliner, preparing for a mastectomy.”
I was, in fact, the youngest person in the cancer center. No one could feel what I was feeling. I was torn between wanting to isolate myself and wanting the company and comfort of my friends. I had always worn “the strong friend” badge proudly and I felt like I HAD to keep it together. I HAD to nod and smile and be the picture of strength. I didn’t want to be treated like the “sick friend.”
I struggled with wanting to be supported, but not knowing what kind of support I needed. I knew about some of the breast cancer risk factors as I had watched my grandmother and mother battle the disease. But both were much older with adult children. I was 28 with two young children and a relationship that had just reached the one-year mark.
A Little Help from Our Friends
When I started chemo, my friends showed up. Round after round—I was never alone. So much so that my nurse often joked that I had an “entourage” every time I came in for treatment. I can’t imagine going through my diagnosis without the love and support of my friends who just “got it.” Even when no one knew quite what to say, they were present. And even when I would say “I’m ok,” they would insist on being there.
They were truly a light in one of the darkest times of my life. In fact, my breast cancer diagnosis taught me a lot about the relationships in my life. It had always been important for me to make sure my friends felt like they could lean on me. I always wanted to be the rock. I wanted my boyfriend to know that I was a strong, independent woman.
But I realized the importance of letting people be there. It was OK for me to lean on my friends. It was OK for me to be vulnerable and admit that I wasn’t always OK.
The Ones Who Stay
My boyfriend and I at the time had been together just over a year and I found myself wanting to push him away. I felt like a burden. The diagnosis was overwhelming for me so I could only imagine what was going through his head. Everything about me changed. So what would become of our plans of one day getting married and having more children? According to my doctor, the chances of conception after such aggressive chemo would be slim. I was bald and breastless. A cancer diagnosis wasn’t part of our plans.
He stayed. He held my hand. He was there.
He’s still here. On September 30th, we celebrated our 3-year wedding anniversary and our baby girl will celebrate her 2nd birthday on December 7th.
No one plans for breast cancer in your 20s, or at any age. And when it comes in, it wreaks havoc on every area of your life. Physically, mentally and financially—cancer doesn’t leave any area untouched. My friendships and my relationship were stronger than cancer. We fought together, we overcame together and though the foundation was shaken, we proved to be solid.
I am forever grateful for my amazing support system.
Monisha Parker found herself on the receiving end of a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 28. Her diagnosis further ignited her passion for spreading awareness and offering support to others who have been affected by breast cancer. She authored a children’s book in 2018, which helps explains breast cancer to children. She currently resides in North Carolina with her husband and 3 children where she frequently shares her breast cancer journey at conferences and other community events. Follow her on her website at www.purposepaintedpink.com or on Instragram at @monishashante0503.