Rachael Garrett



For many typical 21 year olds, their mindset is going to work, attending school, who their hanging out with that night or more worried about the new bar in town or the new clothing store that just opened. Little did I know, at 21 I’d be fighting Breast Cancer. It was a Thursday in early December of 2011, when I first found a rather large lump in one of my breast. I remember asking my mom to check it out because it came out of nowhere. She told me to call my doctor. I proceeded to seek care from a family doctor we’d been seeing for many years who referred me to a surgeon and specialist in breast. 

Not thinking anything of it (I was only 21), I went and saw the surgeon 2 weeks later. There, I received a breast exam, Ultrasound, a CAT scan, and a Mammogram. All results came back benign. (At the time, I really wasn’t sure what that meant). The surgeon asked to perform a biopsy, I, not being a fan of needles, opted out of the biopsy and said this lump bothers me and needs to just be taken out. Upon my wish, we scheduled for a lumpectomy in January of 2012. After surgery, I felt like it was just a little procedure and it is all in the past now. 

I got a phone call a week after surgery. The worst call any woman or man could possibly receive. It was my surgeon. I never thought I would hear the words “You have breast cancer” especially at the age of 21. I’m not sure what really went through my head, all I knew is that I had cancer. I was confused, shocked, terrified, and every emotion you could think of. How could it be cancer when all the testing before came back benign? During the surgery, they did not clear margins. It spread within the whole left breast. He began to tell me what type of cancer it was. I had one of the rarest forms of cancer called a Phyllodes Tumor. 1% of woman get, it is only diagnosable through a pathologist microscope and it’s very aggressive if treated wrong. He told me it could spread in my entire body within 2 months. Chemo and Radiation were not an option for me. Receiving and taking all of this information in was difficult, it was hard to focus and follow. 

We schedule for an appointment to discuss what option I did have. Doing some research myself, along with the help of my family, I decided to continue with a double mastectomy with reconstruction surgery. When I told my surgeon my decision, he looked surprised. I told him if choosing to receive a double mastectomy and my chances of this returning is less than 2% than getting a single mastectomy and my chances are 98% of returning I’d like for the double. I admit, I was terrified to go through this major surgery. I was afraid of the pain. I didn’t know what to expect. I was more afraid of not feeling like a woman and not being strong enough to fight this battle. February 3rd 2012 came along, the big surgery. It came fast and as I sat in the hospital bed, my mom and dad were there to wish me luck. As tears rolled down their face, I refused to show them my weakness. I started to sing “I’m sexy and I know It” this brought smiles and positive vibes. So I was ready. This surgery took 11 hours! I remember waking up and hoping it was all a dream, but the pain I felt, it was reality. Both of my breasts were gone. I had these hard as rock expanders in. I had drain tubes coming out the sides of my breast and these huge incisions going across my entire chest. Recovering from this surgery was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I then began going every 2 weeks to get “expanded” so that my skin and muscle could take to an implant. This was painful too. 

February 13th 2012, I received a phone call saying I WAS CANCER FREE! The joy and sense of relief that came out is indescribable. I felt empowered and on top of the world. I, at 21, beat breast cancer. You don’t hear that every day! I continued with my expansion and underwent another surgery July of 2012 for the implants. (Yes I had the rock hard expanders for 5 months). I also had to undergo a re-do of that surgery the following year due to complications. This past February 2017, I hit 5 years being cancer free and now have a daughter of my own who is 2. I speak almost daily of this journey and try to promote early detection any way I can. I have attended fashion shows and attended high school classes as a speaker of breast cancer. I live day to day and try to encourage all to listen to their gut. If you feel something is wrong, DON’T ignore it. Look at me, if I ignored it, I probably wouldn’t be here today with a family of my own. I fought, you can too. Now I know I can watch my kids grow up.