In 2018, YSC teamed up with fashion designer Kelly Faetanini to gift 2 young breast cancer survivors the wedding dresses of their dreams. Katie Dunn and her partner are getting married in June 2019. She jokes she and her family called her breast cancer story “Cancer for Christmas, Boobs for My Birthday.” Katie is sharing her story about breast cancer, finding love and receiving the bridal gown gift to create the wedding she’s always wanted.
In the summer of 2015, I had just turned 35. I was on a camping and paddling trip, covering about 100 miles of the Connecticut River in Northern New Hampshire. One evening, while sleeping on the ground, I laid my hand across my body and felt a lump on the side of my right breast.
Honestly, I didn’t think much of it. To my knowledge, we had no breast cancer in my family. I had a physical scheduled for November that year. I thought I’d just mention it then.
Things moved really fast after my physical. I was immediately referred to schedule a mammogram. Based on those results, they wanted to do a biopsy.
The night I had to tell my parents was one of the most difficult on my journey. You see, I’m an only child. And I actually have a good relationship with my folks, too.
No Family History, Right?
After dinner one night, I told them what was going on. My mom looked to my dad and asked how his mother had died. We knew she’d had cancer, but my dad had always assumed it was lung cancer because she smoked. Everybody smoked back then! Lung cancer made sense.
She’d died when my dad was in his early twenties, so I’d never met her. They had a fairly estranged relationship, and she kept a lot of her personal health information private. He called his step-sister night to confirm the kind of cancer she’d had.
It was breast cancer. It had eventually spread to her bones, lungs and brain. Even then, I was still thinking, “Let’s just see what the biopsy results are.”
Breast Cancer Detection and Diagnosis
Find answers to frequently asked questions about symptoms, early detection, family history, and more.
Cancer for Christmas
On December 22, 2015, I was putting on a Christmas party that afternoon at work. I sat in the doctor’s office wearing my elf hat, ready to get on with the festivities.
In the bright white light of the medical office, the surgeon told me it was breast cancer, triple negative, meaning no hormonal involvement.
Ok, I said, having no idea what the hell any of this meant. He referred me to an oncologist and we scheduled a lumpectomy on New Year’s Eve.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, right?
I went straight to work and hosted a fabulous holiday party. I didn’t know how I was going to tell my employer. I had no idea what would happen after I told them. I was lucky – they supported me through everything. They couldn’t have been more supportive.
The first oncologist I saw went through EVERYTHING. He recommended a course of chemotherapy cocktails.
Okay, I thought.
Then he wrote down a timeline for what I should expect from chemo treatments. Hairloss, bone pain, neuropathy, etc. He switched to fertility, a barrage of information. He said I could have my eggs harvested and frozen, so I could use them later. He bluntly asked if I even wanted kids. Like I needed to decide right then.
I guess not, I said, cringing at the way that made my parents feel. Didn’t see that coming.
I sought a second opinion from an oncologist closer to home at a local hospital. Then I made another appointment with another oncologist who even had a satellite office nearby. I made a fourth appointment to get a fourth opinion with a naturopath.
I think what I was looking for was not necessarily another form of treatment. I was trying to figure out if I was really worth treating in the first place.
Was it worth all the hassle? Was it worth the effort? Was I worth saving? I asked these questions because I was a 35-year-old single woman, no boyfriend, no kids. I wasn’t a wife. I wasn’t a mother. I didn’t even have a dog who needed me! Yes, I know, lots of people love me and would miss me. Yadda yadda. But my feelings in those moments made me question.
BRCA – An Answer and More Questions
I went through 8 rounds of chemo. My family and I were tested for the genetic mutation BRCA1 and BRCA2. Both my dad and I tested positive. The result ended up giving me some relief. I was trying so hard to understand why me. I ate right. I exercised. How did this happen?
However, with the BRCA mutation, there was a higher chance of the cancer coming back and I had an increased risk for ovarian cancer. I went from navigating chemo treatments to talking about mastectomies and oophorectomies (removing my ovaries and tubes).
“In the end, I still feel broken. I didn’t know who was going to want me, let alone want to spend the rest of their life with me. What happened has changed me forever, inside and out. My perspective is completely changed. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I know what really matters now. And I hoped that one day I would find someone to see me for what I really was, all this cancer crap aside. And luckily I did.”
The other thing I learned through this journey was who my village is. My mother always says it takes a village, from the aspect that you can’t do everything alone. When I started to lose my hair and realized I needed to shave it, we threw a head shaving party. Now I work as a chemist in an environmental lab, but for fun I participate in community theatre. And for fitness I worked out at a local Crossfit gym. My head shaving party, which we held at the gym, had over 80 people there. We had 2 people wielding clippers for the 15 people who shaved their heads Five of them were women. A truly amazing experience. I realized then that no one in that room was in my shoes, but they were all in my corner. And that’s all that mattered.
The other thing I learned real quick was who wanted the honest answer when they asked you how you were doing. I had to quickly evaluate whether or not they were someone who could handle an honest answer or who would prefer just a plain thumb’s up, doing fine kinda response. Not everyone could handle the ugly answer. And I wasn’t looking for sympathy, either.
My biggest regret through the whole process: trying to be a hero.
There was no reason for me to be the hero. Looking back, I worked way more than I should have. Chemo brain is real! There were days I should have stayed home and let my body rest and heal. The job would have gotten done without me. On the other hand, trying to maintain a normal routine was important to me, too. I didn’t want to slip in bed and pull the covers over my head either. I wanted to keep going. I should have found a more middle-ground approach. How come that wasn’t on the doctor’s list?
Intro: In 2018, YSC teamed up with fashion designer Kelly Faetanini to gift 2 young breast cancer survivors the wedding dresses of their dreams. Katie Dunn and her partner are getting married in June 2019. She jokes she and her family called her breast cancer story “Cancer for Christmas, Boobs for My Birthday.” Katie is sharing her story about breast cancer, finding love and receiving the bridal gown gift to create the wedding she’s always wanted.