Stories about breast cancer that can inspire and inform

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Courtney’s Story: Wife, Mom, Daughter, Survivor

Courtney Parker was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2017. Her maternal grandmother and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1980s and her mother was diagnosed in late 2022. Courtney underwent genetic testing, which revealed she has a BRCA inherited gene mutation. This is her story in her own words.

I’m a high school teacher and gymnastics coach. In April 2017, we were at the state championships when I noticed a pea size lump in my breast. I was breastfeeding at the time and had to pump while I was away from home. I thought it was mastitis (an infection) and had a round of antibiotics. But the lump didn’t go away, and in May I went to the doctor. They told me the changes in my breasts were due to breastfeeding and to come back in two months.

I went back in July and the lump was now the size of a softball. They did an ultrasound and a mammogram, then a biopsy. I was angry at myself for not advocating for myself back in May. Knowing I have a family history, why didn’t I push for myself?

When all the results of the tests and scans came back over the next two weeks, I found out I had a HER2+ tumor in my left breast and we found another tumor in my right breast that was triple negative breast cancer.

Throughout the early days of my diagnosis, I honestly thought I’d have a lumpectomy and could go back to breastfeeding my 13-month-old. It took a while for me to fully understand how large the tumor was in my body.

I had chemotherapy first. I missed several weeks of treatment because my blood counts were so low. When I finally finished chemotherapy, I was able to have my double mastectomy in January 2018. I was able to go straight to implants, which caused issues. About six weeks after surgery, I ended up in the hospital for a week due to septic shock (a severe infection).

This pushed my radiation start back a week. After 28 radiation treatments, I thought I was done forever. Little did I know that it was only the beginning. Radiation tightened up the reconstruction, so I had to have another surgery. I have side effects from chemo, heart issues and bone issues, so it’s appointment after appointment, even now. It’s hard. I want to be past it and forget about it, but I’m still going to see the doctor. And because of my BRCA status, I had a complete hysterectomy in 2020. There’s the fear of it coming back in the lungs, the bones, the brain. Whenever I have a headache or joint pains, it goes straight to my head – what is it?

I’ve found purpose in sharing my story. I want others to understand their risk of breast cancer, to know about their risk. Looking back and thinking about why I didn’t push for a mammogram in May of 2017, I think I just wanted to believe it couldn’t be cancer. I wanted to believe it was breastfeeding causing the changes to my breasts. I wanted to believe that breast cancer couldn’t happen to someone who was only 32.

Click here to learn more about breast cancer risk. Listen to Courtney share her story here.

Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.