Heather McClain



n mid-July 2004, I found a lump in my breast. Doctors in my town said it was probably just a cyst of some sort. I had a lumpectomy to take it out and, when the pathology report came back, it was a phyllodes tumor. I was sent to Seattle doctors because my local doctors said my case required more expertise than they had, which initially freaked me out because I thought, “What I am dealing with?” 

The doctors in Seattle took another look at the pathology report and said my tumor was very aggressive and that I needed a full mastectomy plus CAT scans to see if it had spread to my lungs yet. Thankfully the CAT scans came back negative—the cancer had not spread. 

The surgery
I’m seventeen years old, and it’s hard to have to lose a breast when physical features are so important at this time of my life. No more low-cut shirts, tube tops, halters, bikinis—nothing that my friends wear. Plus, I had to take time out of school for surgery dates. 

Before the date of the surgery on September 10th, I just kept hoping that all evidence of this cancer would go away before the time of my surgery, so they wouldn’t need to take my breast off. I was hoping for a miracle. The next thing that scared me was the meeting with the oncologist. I had already picked out a wig just in case I would need chemo. Luckily I didn’t. With the type of tumor, chemo is ineffective.

Facing the future
The chance of reocurrence is high in the next three to five years, so I have to have checkups every three months. They said that if the cancer was to come back, it would come back more aggressive than it was before and could spread to my lungs, bones or blood. I’m thankful for every day that I wake up without a lump. 

Since the mastectomy, I have been emotionally shattered. The once self-confident girl I used to be is no more. I feel like having to worry about a subject like cancer has forced me to grow up faster. All my friends are worried about their crushes and what to wear on a Friday night, while I’m worried about if I’m going to have to lose my hair to chemo, and if I’m going to get bumped and hurt in the hallways of school.

Sharing the experience with others
I have been able to make good out of this though. I have taken my story and shared it with other young women to spread awareness about how cancer can strike at any age. I have talked about it on Dr. Phil and Good Morning America, I made breast cancer wristbands as a senior project at school and I’m currently writing a book about the whole experience.