Surviving Breast Cancer in Your Twenties

By: Kathleen Brennan

Having cancer has completely changed my life. I was in the prime of my life really having just graduated college and wanting to be independent and have a job like all of my other friends. I was only 23!! How did I have breast cancer!? I’ve had so many nights of the “why me” mourning, but have gotten better with dealing with it with time. I’ve tried to live my life as normal as possible, but it’s hard. It was hard when all of my friends wanted to go out and drink and I didn’t even have the energy to get off the couch. 

In November 2014, my gynecologist found a lump in my breast, so I had a breast ultrasound done to check it. The ultrasound technician told me that there were actually three “masses” and that they were simply cysts, then told me to get checked again in 6 months. I graduated from TCU in December of 2014 and moved back home to Austin while I searched for a job.

In January, I could feel that the lumps had grown so I went in for another ultrasound. They had in fact grown, but the technician told me that they were 99.9% benign, however she referred me to a surgeon if I wanted to have them removed. They kind of hurt a little, so I told my mom that I just wanted get them taken out while I was still on their insurance!

I went in for surgery on Monday, March 30, 2015. Two days later, my surgeon called me and told me that he had gotten the pathology report back and that he was completely shocked. It was April Fool’s Day, so I thought he was kidding when he told me that the tumors were cancerous. When I knew he wasn’t joking, my heart dropped and I immediately went into shock. I was so upset and so terrified. I remember just balling crying for days.

I soon found out that the breast cancer I had was Stage IIIC Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, HER2+ and ER/PR-. The biggest tumor was about 2 inches large and it had spread to a lymph node in my armpit area. I was set to receive 6 rounds of chemo every three weeks, followed by Herceptin every three weeks for a year.

I started chemo on April 27, 2015 and had to shave my head (wahhhh) exactly 2 weeks later because it started falling out. That was so hard for me. I never thought I would go out in public bald, but I only wore my wig once before I decided it was weird and too hot. And I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and told me they thought I was beautiful bald and it just made me feel so good when I was feeling so bad.

Kathleen collage (1)

Kathleen after each chemo treatment.

I had my last chemo on August 10th, followed by a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction with tissue expanders on September 8th. I was so upset to lose my boobs, especially since I only just turned 24. It’s not freakin’ fair!!! My pathology report came back two days after my mastectomy and my surgeon was finally able to tell me that I was cancer free!!!! Hallelujah. In February 2016 I had my tissue expanders replaced for my implants and I love them! It’s nice not to have to wear a bra and be perky 😉 gotta look at all the positives!! I finally got my port taken out a couple weeks ago and that is a great feeling!

Right now, I still live at home with my parents. I got my first full-time job as a marketing coordinator at a commercial real estate firm here in Austin, and it finally feels like I’m back to a normal life. I also started eating a lot healthier and my family has as well which is a huge plus. My mom and I make smoothies almost every morning with greens and fruit and power foods and I’ve completed cut out processed foods and limited my meat consumption. I love to cook so we are always trying out new recipes.

Kathleen with mom

Kathleen and her mother after her last chemo treatment.

Having cancer has also led me to meet so many people. I have such a great support system with my friends and family, but also the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls and BCRC. They have been so helpful in answering questions I had or still have or just being there to talk to me because they know what I’ve gone through and what I’m going through. I met so many people who saw my head when I was bald or seen my Port and tell me they are survivors too and we have a moment of connection and understanding and it is a really great feeling, knowing I’m not alone. This journey is hard, unexpected and unpredictable, but I’m gonna fight, and I’m gonna win!!!


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