24-year-old Alex Whitaker was getting ready for a fun night out when she discovered a lump in her breast. What followed was countless doctors visits, chemotherapy appointments and tough moments, with more challenges to come as she enters the next two cycles of treatment. Here, Alex tells her story in her own words, with the hope that she will raise awareness and create a community of support for young women experiencing breast cancer.
I have always hoped that “strong” is one of the first words that comes to mind when my family and friends think of me. But I never imagined that I would earn that description by fighting breast cancer at just 24 years old.
I originally discovered my lump in early 2018 by doing something that was fairly routine for me — putting on a sticky bra. I had just moved back to my home state of Florida after spending a few years in New York City and was enjoying being able to visit with my friends from college. Even the “winter” months here are hot, so putting on sticky bras in order to wear smaller tank tops and dresses is something to which we Florida girls are accustomed. While pressing on the petal, I felt a prominent lump in my right breast. At the time, though, I was only concerned with not being the last person ready to rush out the door.
The morning after going out, I remembered feeling the lump, and checked to see if it was still there. It didn’t take any groping, poking or prodding to find it. The lump was just as prominent as I had remembered, and I could feel it by lightly brushing my fingers over the skin. I tend to overthink just about every little thing that happens in my life, so I decided to make an appointment with the OB-GYN for peace of mind. From there, the next few weeks consisted of various appointments for imaging and a breast biopsy. Despite being reassured by nearly every technician, nurse and doctor that there would be nothing to worry about, on February 8, 2018, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.
The weeks that followed my initial diagnosis were a blur of appointments including meeting with a breast surgeon, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist and plastic surgeon. After my team of doctors had a treatment plan in place, even more appointments followed. I had to get an echocardiogram, meet with a fertility specialist, get my blood tested, have some genetic testing done and have surgery to get my port placed for chemotherapy, among other things.
Battling breast cancer has without a doubt been one of the toughest things that I have ever had to endure. But I choose not to focus on that — instead I am learning as much as I can. I have found myself in plenty of deep late-night internet spirals. Despite my best efforts, it was really difficult for me to find resources geared toward young women. It makes sense, considering fewer than 5% of women in the U.S. diagnosed with breast cancer are under 40, but hey, we still exist!
I quickly developed the drive to create a support system near and far for young breast cancer warriors. As a publicist, I decided the best way to do this would be to candidly share my story, and I started a blog to share the highs and lows of my journey, as well as the resources I find along the way.
I hope to not only connect with women all over who are going through the same exact things as I am, but to also raise awareness among my peers that this can happen to anyone, regardless of age. Self-awareness and early detection are the strongest tools we have, and you are your own best advocate. If something feels off, speak up! Go get it checked out! If I would have ignored my body — and let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of that — I’m not sure I would have been lucky enough to be diagnosed at a very treatable stage I.
As I write this, I am now one-third of the way done with my chemo treatments, and in the “rest” phase of my second cycle as I prepare my body for round three. My treatments will continue through the summer and I will then undergo a double mastectomy and the beginning stages of reconstruction this fall. My cancer is triple positive, which means I will still have years of treatments ahead of me, even after the surgery is complete.
I’m taking everything one day at a time and staying as positive as I can. Forming #WhittysTittyCommittee is one of the things that helps me to keep a smile on my face. I’ve already made such wonderful friends through sharing my story and it makes me feel so good to know that I’m helping people out.
Please feel free to follow my journey via my blog, whittystittycommittee.com, or my Instagram account @alexxwhiitaker and hashtag, #WhittysTittyCommittee. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions or just want to say hi. And remember, squeeze a titty because you just might save a life.