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Tiffany’s Story: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, I Know I Have to Advocate for Myself

Tiffany Washington was diagnosed at 41 with stage 3 HER2+ invasive ductal carcinoma. This is her story in her own words.

I recently had a baby and wanted to lose the 20 pounds I gained during pregnancy before his 1st birthday. I watched what I ate and started losing weight. I felt so good and I could see the results. Little did I know that this weight loss would help me discover a noticeable lump in my right breast. I just assumed it was a clogged milk duct, but I quickly made an appointment with my doctor.

My doctor felt the lump and said it’s probably just a cyst, but better to be safe than sorry, and to put my mind at ease, she referred me for a diagnostic mammogram.

I waited an entire month for that appointment, which I would later regret. I wish I’d had more urgency at the time, but my doctors didn’t really make it seem like it was an issue, so I didn’t tell my mom or my sister. I didn’t bring it up to anyone because I didn’t think anything was wrong.

During the diagnostic mammogram, which was my first ever mammogram, I could sense something was wrong. The techs went from chipper to silent. Extra images were taken and an ultrasound was done in silence. The radiologist said I needed to get a biopsy and left the room. The vibe was definitely off. I was freaking out on the inside, but I didn’t want to make a big deal about it because I just didn’t know what to think at that point. I was getting scared.

The nurse navigator made an appointment for a biopsy consultation 10 days later, but I demanded an earlier appointment. Luckily, I met an amazing physician assistant at my breast specialist’s office who listened to me and heard my frustration.

She managed to get me an appointment for a biopsy consultation that afternoon and scheduled the biopsy for the following morning. She held my hand during the consultation as the specialist showed me what he could see on the ultrasound. The next morning when my biopsy was complete, I asked my doctor about next steps.

“If this biopsy comes back benign (noncancerous), will you have to remove the lump?” I asked. The doctor replied, “If it comes back benign, I will perform another biopsy. I do not expect it to come back benign.” At that moment, I came to terms that this was serious.

Three days later I received confirmation that the lump in my breast was cancer and it had spread to my lymph node. I was diagnosed with stage 3 HER2+ invasive ductal carcinoma, two days before my daughter’s 14th birthday and just two weeks after my son’s first birthday. Everything was going so great, and in an instant, my entire world turned upside down.

Suddenly I’m scheduling multiple appointments and fighting to get earlier dates. Always advocate for yourself, because there’s a different level of anxiety when your life is on the line.

I’ll have six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a mastectomy and surgery to remove some lymph nodes, as well as HER2-targeted therapy. Most likely I’ll end up having radiation, as well. Am I afraid? Of course, but my faith in God along with modern medicine will see me through this battle.

It’s important people know all the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, because it’s not just a lump. I also had a rash under my breast, but I assumed it was a heat rash from working out. I had no idea a rash could be a sign of breast cancer. There are many warning signs that are not commonly discussed. Before my diagnosis, I had no idea there is a connection between prostate cancer and breast cancer. My grandfather and my uncle both had prostate cancer.

If something doesn’t seem right, call the doctor. Never delay an appointment if there’s a problem. It’s really a matter of life and death. Advocate for yourself. Black women especially need to push for earlier appointments, ask questions and hold medical professionals accountable for doing their jobs efficiently and promptly. Never be ashamed to speak up for yourself. I know it’s an exhausting process mentally and physically, but it’s essential. Don’t give up.

I have an amazing husband, children, family and friends that are here for me every step of the way. I’m only 41. I have so many more birthdays and events to share with my husband and our babies.

 Statements and opinions expressed are those 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.