Stories about breast cancer that can inspire and inform

Blog  |  Newsroom

How Cancer Changed My Life

When Christine Elliott was in her early 30s, she learned she had stage 3 breast cancer. Shortly after her diagnosis, she found out she also had lung cancer, which was unrelated to the breast cancer diagnosis. Christine’s family has a history of cancer, so she underwent a gene panel test. While she did test positive for one gene mutation, it was not related to breast cancer. This is her story in her own words. 

There is a history of cancer in my family. My mother had breast cancer and my grandmother had stomach cancer. I did have a 21-gene panel test done and tested positive for one gene mutation, but it was not related to breast cancer.  

In August 2020, I was diagnosed with stage 3 triple positive breast cancer. I was 31. Shortly after my diagnosis, my husband and I decided to preserve my embryos as I was told chemotherapy would render me infertile. We managed to secure two embryos and to this day, I have so much love for those two little possibilities.  

My treatment included five months of chemotherapy, two surgeries, a year of trastuzumab (Herceptin) and 21 days of radiation therapy. At the time of my diagnosis, I was absolutely terrified. Stage 3 is not “catching it early” and worst of all, there was a spot on my lung directly behind the breast cancer. During the five months of chemo, we could not get a successful test result on the lung nodule, so I had to wait, wondering and fearing the worst. Was it stage 4? Would I make it? 

My one saving grace was that I had lots of time to talk with my naturopathic doctor during that time. She helped me to understand my options and gave me hope.  

Once chemotherapy was complete, it was time to decide on surgery. I had had an “extraordinary result” during my chemotherapy and the once 7.6 cm tumor was now 1.2 cm. I opted for a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy due to the size. 

Once that was completed, I had to decide what to do about my lung. I opted to have it surgically removed through a type of surgery called lower lobe resection. They removed the lower portion of my lung and sent the tumor for biopsy. Lung surgery caused me a severe amount of pain. My body reacted to the intrusion unfavorably and immediately after the surgery, it was difficult to catch my breath. That remains to be one of the scariest moments of my life.  

A few weeks later I received news about both surgeries. My breast tumor was completely gone, and the lung tumor was found to be cancerous. I was shocked at that moment as the doctor went on to explain that the tumor in my lung was not metastatic breast cancer, it was instead a second, primary lung cancer. I had two cancers at once. Since the radiation I received for my breast hit the area where the lung tumor was located, I did not need additional treatment. 

It was such a shock. I had been feeling fine and healthy regarding lung health with no concerns at all. That’s when it hit me. If I hadn’t had breast cancer at the exact same time, on the same side, would we have found the lung cancer? Breast cancer in essence saved my life. I had been given a second chance at life.  

I vowed at that moment to never take life for granted, to always live life to the absolute fullest and never hold back.  

I have done just that. Since my active treatment was completed, I have begun mentoring women who have completed active treatment for  cancer to heal their minds and reclaim their lives, I went on my dream trip, I stopped apologizing for who I was or constantly trying to please people, and I volunteered at different nonprofit organizations helping to advocate and raise awareness for cancer in my hometown. I am still growing as a person today.  

I know it is unconventional to say that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me – and trust me, it was awful. However, I chose to change my life for the better as a result and I will never look back. I didn’t choose cancer, but I did choose who I was going to be after cancer. This changed my life completely. 

No matter what happens to you, no matter what trauma you go through, you can always choose who you are going to be afterward.  

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.

Breast cancer screening and early detection play an important role in your health. Screening tests can help detect breast cancer at an early stage when the chances of survival are highest.