Ashley Fernandez was diagnosed with stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer when she was 31 years old. This is her story in her own words.
For months, I tried to figure out what was wrong with me. My husband, our daughter and I lived in Alaska at the time, we’re an Air Force Family. I felt weak and was tired all the time. I kept being told I had a vitamin D deficiency, or it was the change of seasons.
Then I found a lump in my breast. I called the medical clinic and told them. I asked for help, I asked for an ultrasound, but I was told:
You’re 31 years old.
You have no family history.
You’re too young for breast cancer.
You’re going to be all right.
I realized I needed to take my health into my own hands. I was in tune enough with my body to know something was off. It was such a devastating time, because I knew something was wrong, but nobody would listen to me. Finally, I was able to get an appointment for a mammogram. Because my breasts are dense, I also had a breast MRI.
That weekend, my 3-year-old daughter and I flew to Seattle for a girls’ trip with my mom, who lived in Chicago. We were standing in the Seattle sky tower, looking out at Mt. Rainier, the Cascade Mountains, the city of Seattle, that’s the moment that changed everything, when I got the call “you have breast cancer.”
And honestly, I was relieved because I knew something was wrong, and I finally had answers and I wasn’t crazy. I was so thankful that my mother was there when I got the call—it was like God knew who I was going to need when I heard those words.
After that weekend, when I was back in Alaska, I told the nurse practitioner at the cancer center that I had hip pain. And that’s how we learned I had stage 4 (metastatic) breast cancer. They did a bone scan and I lit up like a Christmas tree. The cancer had spread to my bones.
“That’s the cancer,” the nurse told me, pointing at the scan. “I can’t believe how much pain you were in.”
After all those months of feeling bad and not being able to get anyone to listen to me, I now had my answer. I sobbed. It was devastating, but in my life, I’ve drawn strength from three things: sunshine, faith and family.
When times are hard, I turn to the sun, either literally or to Jesus Christ, who embodies the sun for me. My faith has really helped me process this and understand that yes, bad things happen in the world, but something is going to be for the better. What I’m going through is going to empower somebody else, either to help or to be motivated to get checked out. My mother, my husband, my daughter, my family—they’re my biggest support system.
I want my story to help educate and empower others to advocate for themselves, to get better treatment and to be knowledgeable about what’s going on.
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.