Lauren Tarpley: Breast Cancer Survivor, Advocate, & Author
I have been getting annual screening mammograms since I was 30. In July of 2020 I went in for my annual mammogram. I had a nagging pain in my armpit so I was thankful it was time for it.
The hospital called me the next day and said it looked abnormal, so I needed to come back. The second appointment was a mammogram and an ultrasound. They called me the next day and said I had asymmetry and calcifications. That was very uncharacteristic for a 34-year-old. They wanted me back a third time for an ultrasound guided biopsy.
My [GP] doctor called me this time the next day and told me that it was cancer. I never imagined that if I got this news it would be over the phone, but this is common. It was invasive ductal carcinoma. I did not know what he meant. I got hot and instantly cold. I was sweating and my mouth got dry. All these things happened at once. I was so confused and I saw my life flash before my eyes.
I just went in to get my gold star, my green check mark. Every time I had gone, they told me I was too young to be there so that helped me with my anxiety and I had no worries. But now I was right. I didn't want to be right for forcing my way into approvals and referrals, but I was right to demand these things for myself. This wasn't the time or place, nor would it ever be to say, I was right.
From there on, everything was a blur. I was diagnosed on 9/4 and my first chemo cycle was 10/8, on the anniversary of our first date. Between that time, that was not even a month; we did IVF, I had my port placement surgery, I had a CT scan, a PET scan, an MRI, a lymph node biopsy and I had an egg retrieval. It was a busy month. I ended up being diagnosed with Stage 2 HER2+ breast cancer at the age of 34. On Halloween my husband shaved my head, it was two days after my second chemo infusion. My hair was falling out very quickly.
I have completed treatment. My treatment consisted of: six cycles of THCP chemo, a double mastectomy with 9 lymph nodes removed, 25 sessions of radiation, 11 rounds of immunotherapy and I am approaching my fifth surgery for reconstruction.
Ever since settling down and getting married, all I’ve wanted for my life was to grow a happy/healthy family and go to work; earn my paycheck, be a good mom, wife, daughter, sister and friend...but there was an extra card in my deck.
I have studied and obsessed over the choices I have made in my life up to the moment of diagnosis and wonder what I did to cause this. The doctors say nothing, with this type of cancer, but my mind still wanders there from time to time.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t recognize age. So be your own health advocate and know your body. Have a baseline so you can recognize differences.
I have taken this time to educate as many people as I can on racial disparities in medicine and facts about breast & AYA cancer(s). That is what motivated me to write my book, Type A Guide to Cancer. It is the book I wish was available to me when I was diagnosed. It is a road map to help those going through treatment with helpful tips and questions to ask your doctor.
Oh and don’t forget to live along the way!