Things I Wish I Knew As A Young Survivor

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.

[00:00:17] The risk of getting breast cancer increases as you get older, but breast cancer can happen at any age. Today’s guest was diagnosed with stage 3 luminal B invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer at the young age of 31 with no prior family history. She’s a mom of a two year old, a DIYer, and spends time trying to live a more simple, happy life.

[00:00:39] We’re lucky to have Abby here today to share her experience as a young breast cancer survivor. And how she’s navigating the twists and turns of her breast cancer journey. Abby, welcome to the show. 

[00:00:49] Abby: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m a bit nervous, but so excited to be on here. Thank you so much. 

[00:00:56] Adam Walker: Well we’re excited to have you.

[00:00:58] I’m excited to get to chat with you. And I think our listeners will be will be happy to hear your story. And so, so I know you were diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age. Let’s talk about that. And in particular, how did that impact your life? 

[00:01:10] Abby: Just to share a little bit, the cancer definitely seeps into every part of your life.

[00:01:16] It impacted my marriage, my family, friends me being a mom. There was a lot of mom guilt going through this, because I was, He’s fairly a newish mom since he was turning two that year. I wasn’t able to take care of him a lot. So I feel like you just already experienced a lot of mom guilt trying to navigate that new identity as a mother.

[00:01:43] So this just took it on a whole other level. Every day is still different. The like emotional and physical rollercoaster ride. You just never know what to expect, how you’re going to feel. The day you wake up, it took a toll on my body. My body definitely isn’t the same. Someone growing up really active.

[00:02:06] I played sports growing up and I worked out a good amount beforehand. But from like the chemo and the surgeries, I actually also have a herniated disc from chemo, my body being so brittle. So that’s another thing I’m navigating through. So it really makes you reassess your life. My priorities of course are different.

[00:02:31] Once you’re a cancer patient, you are always a cancer patient. And I feel like actually a lot of people don’t know that. When I posted that I was cancer free and that my quote unquote treatments were done when I connected with people, a lot of them didn’t know I’ll actually be on treatments for the next 10 years to yeah, reduce it coming back. 

[00:02:54] You know, when people texted me, they’re like, oh my gosh, congrats, like. You’re cancer free, how are you doing? And then I kind of just give them a little like, Oh yeah, you know I’m doing okay, but my chemo pills are like destroying me right now. They think you can just like jump back into your previous life, which that is just not realistic.

[00:03:14] It’s yeah, so, of course, too, I have to be a little bit more hyper focused of my diet. You know, at social gatherings at a young age, you know, alcohol is still, you know, that social thing that we do, but that’s like one of the three no’s not to do as a cancer patient. So, yeah it’s something I’m still navigating through you know, it impacted me a lot.

[00:03:41] for the rest of my life. So yeah, I’m still navigating and figuring that out. 

[00:03:47] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it sounds like a lot to to deal with all at once, especially like you said, it’s a critical time in your life. But going back to your initial diagnosis, how was your breast cancer initially detected?

[00:03:59] Abby: Yeah. So it was actually, Last June, so June of 2023, so this is all still very new. It hasn’t even been a year since I I actually found a lump myself during a shower. It is pretty crazy because I usually always use like a body scrubber. 

[00:04:19] Right. 

[00:04:19] But that day when I was in the shower, I realized I left it in the bathtub, but I usually just like hop over, you know, it’s like four or five feet away.

[00:04:27] And I usually don’t feel like fully clean without using it. But for whatever reason, that day I decided like, Oh, I’m just not going to use it today, which is when I was using my hands was when I felt the lump. And what’s. just very unfortunate is I actually had an OBGYN appointment eight months prior.

[00:04:48] And I do, we’ll never know, but I do think she missed it during that exam. It was a very aggressive, invasive cancer, but the tumor was almost two inches big. So I do, yeah, it’s kind of frustrating that we’ll never know, but I do believe it was, definitely present during that exam. Yeah. And kind of just like a breakthrough of afterwards. 

[00:05:17] I actually went back to the same office after I found the lump to get it checked and they were actually told me, Oh, we shouldn’t be worried. It feels like assist. And they did send me to get a mammogram and an ultrasound because it was a very big problem. And she unfortunately also didn’t send it as stats.

[00:05:40] So I actually had to wait almost a month and after calling eight locations as well to get that done. 

[00:05:47] Adam Walker: Wow. That’s that’s tough. That’s that’s really, yeah, that’s tough. So so a minute ago you made it, you said a term that. that sort of struck me. You said experiencing mom guilt. And so I wonder what this experience has been like being diagnosed with a young child and all the emotions that you felt along with that.

[00:06:06] Could you walk us through what you meant by mom guilt a little bit? 

[00:06:09] Abby: Yes. So, When I was able to get my mammogram and ultrasound appointment, it was actually two days before my son’s second birthday. So I was already so emotional about him getting older. It just goes by so fast. So I was already in like this sensitive state.

[00:06:28] I’m also very sensitive and emotional person. But I do remember when they found actually during the mammogram and the ultrasound, they actually found another tumor. In my left side and then also calcification on my right. So when I got that news and it, you know, I’d still during that time, I was like, no, it can’t be, it’ll be fine.

[00:06:51] But my first thought was, oh my gosh, my son did turn two when it was all happening. So he is very young, but it is shocking how aware they are at that age. Yeah, so when things started going south you would think that you would try to cherish all the moments with my husband and him and, you know, I’ll get all the snuggles in and all that, but I didn’t realize this until later that I actually was avoiding 

[00:07:20] him. 

[00:07:23] And I think now looking back, When we are waiting to see if it was, if it has spread through my body because it wasn’t looking good. The tumor was really big. The medical staff was working so quickly to get all my CT, MRI, my bone scans done. And of course I ended up on Google. That’s 

[00:07:43] never a good 

[00:07:45] thing.

[00:07:45] No. Yep, 

[00:07:46] ended 

[00:07:47] up on Google. It just was not looking good. And after I found out the news that I was going to beat this, I remember just holding him so tightly and I, that’s when I really broke down. I think during that time I was like, oh, my time with him might be cut short. And it was just such a bizarre thought to have to think about.

[00:08:14] So yeah it’s pretty crazy how aware he was. I definitely was. depressed and just trying to process and just trying to figure out first of all, even all the appointments and going on. And during that time, he actually started acting out more. I don’t know if it was also just the two year, like age time, but it was like, really in the thick of it when I think he definitely felt the change in the atmosphere. 

[00:08:52] And I did decide to do a double mastectomy. And it also did travel to my lymph nodes. So I also got 15 lymph nodes taken out. And so when he would, lift his arms to ask me to carry him and I couldn’t. That was just very heartbreaking. I tried to explain it to him as best I could. And especially when he was sick and how much I just wanted to, you know, take care of him and be there for him and I just couldn’t.

[00:09:23] So that was really hard. 

[00:09:26] Adam Walker: Yeah I can only imagine how difficult that most, I mean, not just experiencing them, but even looking back now, how difficult that is. So I really appreciate you sharing that. So, so you know, thinking about your experience with breast cancer what do you think, or what do you wish someone would have told you about a breast cancer diagnosis when you were first diagnosed that might’ve been helpful along your journey?

[00:09:55] Abby: Yeah, so I don’t know if this is for everyone, but it does seem like the case with the few cancer patients I’ve connected with. But I wish someone told me straight up that it gets harder before it gets easier. Because the order of my treatments was I got a double mastectomy. I had eight rounds of chemo in the span of four months.

[00:10:19] Two of the strongest ones, AC and Taxol. I then had my reconstructive surgery and then I had 25 sessions of radiation over the span of five weeks. And it just got harder as it also went on because the support is so loud in the beginning at initial shock to a point where it was like, overwhelming, and of course my husband and I were so thankful but that does quickly fade away.

[00:10:49] You, you know, they have to, I mean, not have to, but they go on with their lives, you know, out there. And I am so, so grateful for the people who have stuck by us. But yeah, you know, their lives continue while my life is fully on pause. As for me, the treatments got harder, so chemo, yeah, of course, was awful.

[00:11:15] But just recovering from another surgery the, for me, the loneliness got heavier and heavier. So It went on. And another thing I wish people told me was to please like to really be like find resources and the support before you need it. 

[00:11:42] Yeah. Yeah, because these appointments, it’s.

[00:11:47] Being a patient in itself is literally a full time job, 

[00:11:51] right? A full time job. Yeah, there is so many appointments you’re constantly learning new things about your diagnosis the physical things of like fatigue and all that stuff. So in the thick of that, you don’t even have energy to research for like a counselor or whatnot.

[00:12:11] So I feel like looking back, if I had found like a camp, a counselor that I really connected with beforehand, I would have. been able to handle this journey better. 

[00:12:28] Adam Walker: Right. Yeah. Makes sense. 

[00:12:30] Abby: Yeah. 

[00:12:30] Adam Walker: Yeah. You made a statement that, that sort of caught me there. You said the support in the, or the support was so loud in the beginning.

[00:12:40] And I wonder if that’s a common experience like where you get this overwhelming avalanche of support at first and then it tapers off and maybe you actually might need more support later, but it’s already tapered off. Is that kind of what you were implying? 

[00:12:55] Abby: Yeah so there, and you would actually.

[00:13:00] be shocked at who shows up at your door. You know, there were people who, like we know each other, many of my friend my husband’s friends I consider my friends as well, but some of them were, I didn’t have that close connection with. A couple girls dropped off like a gift basket for me and it was just like little pick me ups and a really nice written letter and you would be shocked at just that, like, smile.

[00:13:32] You think it’s a small action, but that really did help me get back up being and being like, okay I really am not alone. You know, there’s a rooting for me to finish my treatments and get through this Definitely there are people who have stuck by our side through the whole thing So I never want to take that away if that makes sense.

[00:13:56] Yeah. Yeah, of course. Yeah, 

[00:13:57] but the support in the beginning it was just It was so much. And also I think in the stages of how you handle this, at least for me in that time too, I was like, I got this positive, like positivity, you know, like this is going to be a breeze and that’s when also the support is the highest.

[00:14:24] It’s a very interesting thing to navigate where unfortunately as it gets harder, the support just naturally goes down. Yeah. 

[00:14:32] Adam Walker: Yeah. That’s something, I mean, that’s something that all of us can sort of keep in mind as we, because we’re always experiencing people that need support. And maybe that’s a good thing to sort of bear in mind as we experience that ourselves.

[00:14:43] So so I’m curious, If there were any cultural aspects that you’re, of you going through breast cancer that made this experience more difficult because you’re Korean American, and if so what did you experience and how did you navigate your way through it? 

[00:14:57] Abby: Yeah, so I know a lot of people can relate to this that in the Korean culture, it, many times it is not natural to talk about our feelings.

[00:15:12] Many of our parents are first generation immigrants to the United States. So, you know, that is a huge thing. Thing and I feel like they were in like some type of like in survival mode as well You know, they come to this kind of foreign country not knowing the language not knowing anything and they got through it You know, I feel like that generation they’re just programmed to truck through like you don’t talk about it.

[00:15:38] You just do it and actually the people of That generation so like my friend’s parents that have gone through cancer and I asked them about it You Like, oh, like, how did, how was it like? And they, like, all of them were like, I actually don’t know. Like, my, my mom didn’t talk about it. And then they would, I heard that after their chemo sessions, they would go straight to work.

[00:16:05] They one, after a huge surgery, the day they got home, they made dinner for the family. 

[00:16:11] Whoa, wow. 

[00:16:13] So it is crazy what they are just definitely built different. So in that aspect, it’s hard to talk about, your feelings when, you know, they also, they didn’t have that outlet. 

[00:16:25] But 

[00:16:27] I will say I am very lucky that my mom actually went to school here and she’s a nurse as well.

[00:16:35] And she is one of my best friends. And she actually knew it was cancer before we got the confirmation call after she read my part. Yeah she ended up being one of my main caretakers. So in that aspect, I Am very blessed and thankful that I was able to be very honest with my mom About how I was feeling and all that but I did want to bring awareness to this though I didn’t know this until later that Asian women have Transcribed the highest rate of having extremely dense breasts.

[00:17:11] So with that being said, many times mammograms can miss detecting cancer. 

[00:17:19] And that was actually the reason I chose a double mastectomy for a single when I learned this. I changed my mind about I think literally the day before my surgery when I was moving forward with single, but after learning this, I, you know, didn’t want to take any chances.

[00:17:38] Right. So yeah, I did want to bring awareness of that and to please go to your yearly checkups. But even that, like, please do your own self exams, especially with my experience, like, do not put your full trust of your body and health and your life in someone else’s hands. 

[00:17:56] Adam Walker: Yeah, going getting the test, getting the mammograms just so, so important.

[00:18:02] So, so talk to me about support. You mentioned your mom already but where did you find support and what did you find that you needed that helped you the most? 

[00:18:11] Abby: Yeah, so of course my husband so, so thankful for him. During chemo my mom was, my main caretaker. So a lot of the times I was actually staying at my parents house.

[00:18:27] So my husband was cooking, cleaning, basically being a full time single dad. He took me to all my appointments that he could. He was also working full time. He just really held the house up and I am just so thankful that I had a partner like him on my side through all this. It of course wasn’t easy.

[00:18:52] The cancer definitely took a toll on our marriage. It, we had to navigate through some very difficult parts. But he is also my best friend. I’m just so grateful for him. And yeah, as I mentioned, my mom and I have a very special group of girlfriends that we actually have known each other since childhood, middle school, high school.

[00:19:17] So we have been friends for years. I literally consider them as like my sisters, could not have gone through it without them. And I know every patient is different. So I think that’s what comes. So what’s so hard with support and. a life changing event like this is I know many people have also said like I didn’t want to overwhelm you, you know, I didn’t you know Cancer is a very uncomfortable 

[00:19:48] Topic right and you know, I It’s so hard because I don’t even know the support I need 

[00:20:00] right.

[00:20:00] So when you know people are like Just please let us know what we can do or what we need. Every day is also different. I have, I can have like a really good day. And then literally the next day is like one of my hardest days. So the support, like both parties are trying to navigate through that, you know, right. 

[00:20:22] But one thing that really helped me was my friend Dana would ask, how are you doing today? And she, or she would literally ask, how are you doing this morning? Right. And that was something I didn’t know would be so much more helpful for me to answer. And it also gave me the, opportunity to be honest with actually, I’ve been having a really hard time. 

[00:20:51] So that was extremely helpful. And thankfully, my girlfriend’s also set up a GoFundMe that played a huge part of this journey. It is absolutely insane how you shouldn’t even be thinking about the financial stuff of this diagnosis, but 

[00:21:16] right, 

[00:21:16] right. Yeah. With our healthcare, it’s inevitable.

[00:21:21] Yeah. 

[00:21:22] Even with the GoFundMe, whenever I got a new bill my heart would sink and, you know, I just, you know, would be so nervous opening that envelope. So the GoFundMe definitely played a huge part in the support through all this. Even with that, I actually was able to even try the cold caps for chemo to keep my hair.

[00:21:45] It unfortunately didn’t work, but I definitely wouldn’t have even tried that if it wasn’t for the GoFundMe because it is crazy expensive. Unfortunately, insurance does not cover it, which is pretty bizarre to me. Right. Yeah. And then of course, meal trains are always so helpful. And I do want to say this, that a huge thing that has helped me get through this has been God.

[00:22:17] Through like Jesus getting through some of my darkest moments, I was able to find like hope and peace. I do want to be raw and real that I’m not like this Christian who has it all together. I actually haven’t been to church in a very long time. I can’t remember the last time I read my Bible. I try to pray here and there, but definitely the seed is planted deeply inside of me.

[00:22:47] When people would send me texts saying like my family and I just lifted a prayer for you tonight, God. Worked in me and I like I genuinely felt peace whenever I got a text like that But yeah, everything above is that I listed all of them got us through and it’s hard to say which one helped the most because As you actually mentioned before a lot of them were helpful more during the different stages of the diagnosis 

[00:23:21] Right.

[00:23:22] Yeah. So, honestly, everything and then some that I mentioned before has been a pivotal thing helping us get through this. 

[00:23:30] Adam Walker: Right. Yeah. Yeah. That, yeah, that makes sense. And I really appreciate you, you know sharing all those things. So, so how have you been able to find purpose in your diagnosis throughout this process as survivorship continues?

[00:23:45] Abby: Yeah. So that is something I’m still figuring out. But I did. early on was like, I refuse that this is for nothing. 

[00:23:58] Yeah, I love that. 

[00:23:59] Yeah, I just it there has to be a reason. But I’m also just kind of, you know, coming down to a realistic level. And honestly, I’ve been thinking like maybe my purpose was On this podcast and sharing my story that’s certainly part of it.

[00:24:15] Adam Walker: Yeah, that’s certainly part of it. Yeah. 

[00:24:17] Abby: Yeah. Like that you’re you found my page out of like the thousand, millions of accounts out there. 

[00:24:25] And I’m so honored to be a part of this. So yeah, I’m like, okay, maybe actually my. Purpose was in that my purpose could be that connecting even just one with one person helping them navigate through this and letting them not feel so lonely through all of it.

[00:24:45] And my friend actually recently, I met up with him and he mentioned, he was like, I feel like you don’t realize that you already made a big impact, because I. I definitely do want to be active sharing my story from beginning to the end on all my social media accounts. As of now, it’s really difficult because I’m still processing it.

[00:25:14] Yeah, I’m sure. 

[00:25:16] But he said when I did share the story of, that I, was diagnosed. He told me that immediately he told his girlfriend to get checked. And he was like I feel like, you know, I never told you that, but I think a lot of people after seeing that made their appointment, and they are taking their health more seriously.

[00:25:42] Is that this happened at my age? A couple of female friends messaged me saying that they just made their appointment. As said before, of course I hope there, it’s like this for sure was my purpose in all this. I haven’t found that yet. 

[00:25:59] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:26:00] Abby: Yeah. 

[00:26:01] Adam Walker: Every time. It’s rarely that direct.

[00:26:03] But but it certainly sounds like you’ve had a good deal of purpose in all this. 

[00:26:07] Abby: I hope so. Yeah. I really hope so. 

[00:26:09] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah. Well Abby, last question for you. And this has been great. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story and the, you know, the hard parts as well as the encouraging ones. 

[00:26:21] What advice would you give to other young survivors on how to navigate a breast cancer diagnosis? 

[00:26:28] Abby: Don’t give up. Cause I know there are many 

[00:26:37] days that are extremely difficult. But to just. keep putting one foot in front of the other and to work towards your big wins, but to please notice and celebrate your small ones.

[00:26:53] And I feel like that’s literally getting out of bed each morning, brushing your teeth getting a meal inside of you having a moment of laughter in your day. And like the cancer isn’t what’s like consuming your mind, which I actually think are big wins. But to Yeah, just make sure to take care of yourself your body to stay active, get outside.

[00:27:21] I know some days are really hard, but to please get outside, get your blood flowing, get moving to s make more memories rather than like binging Netflix or being on your phone. To really, I know this can sound cliche, but to just really live life. Yeah, it’s not a community you wish you were in. But to know that it breaks my heart that you are in this position as well.

[00:27:53] But every emotion, new, old, ugly that you have felt, you are most definitely not alone. So to please be kind to yourself and I don’t know if my account will be available on this, but also I am an open book and to reach out to me if you need someone to talk to that I am here for you. I love that.

[00:28:18] Adam Walker: Well, why don’t you share where they can reach out to you? 

[00:28:20] Abby: Oh, yeah. So my Instagram is. It’s Abby’s Simple Living. It’s A B Y Simple Living. Yes, if you need someone no matter where you are in your cancer journey, I am here for you. Yes, so please don’t go through this journey alone. Please don’t do that.

[00:28:41] Adam Walker: That’s right. Don’t go through the journey alone. You don’t have to go through the journey alone. There are people, there are supports out there. And you can go follow Abby on Instagram and get some encour Abby, you just got one new follower from me right now. So so we’re all set there.

[00:28:57] Well, Abby I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story. I appreciate the Just the the rawness of your story and sharing it but also the hope in it. And and thanks for just being here on the show today. 

[00:29:14] Abby: Yes, thank you so much again for having me. It was so fun actually.

[00:29:19] I’m really glad to share my story. I really hope it helps. Help someone. 

[00:29:24] Adam Walker: Me too. Me too. I think it will. 

[00:29:26] Abby: Thank you.

[00:29:31] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink. komen. org and for more on breast cancer, visit komen. org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter at AJ Walker or on my blog, adamjwalker.

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