What it’s like to be diagnosed with breast cancer at age 21

It starts as a lump in your breast. Then the lump invades your brain and convinces you that you actually are sick. Eventually, it moves to your throat and you find that you can’t talk to people about the big “C-word.”

Cancer.

In high school, I remember feeling a small lump in my breast, but the doctors and I all believed it was nothing more than a calcium deposit. Back then, I knew nothing about cancer besides the sob stories and movie representations. Both of my grandfathers unfortunately were diagnosed with cancer (bladder and lung), but through genetic testing, I found out that breast cancer was not genetic in my family. How lucky was I?

I remember just picking at my thumbs for 20 minutes after I heard those words: “Mia, you have cancer in your breast.”

Not so lucky, it turns out. Years later, when I walked into my appointment, I had my third eye open. I knew something would be devastating to me. Looking back, it was better to walk in with the mindset of being diagnosed with cancer than to let it smack me in the face.

But still, nothing could have fully prepared me for that moment. I remember just picking at my thumbs for 20 minutes after I heard those words: “Mia, you have cancer in your breast.”

It was time to fight.

Finding my inspiration to fight

I’m 21 with breast cancer. I’m also 21 with a mental illness.

I didn’t feel human in the beginning. At first, I felt more like the smallest dust bunny in the corner of the house — weak. My borderline personality disorder mixed with depression made me think that nothing would get better, that I was going to have a pity party every week. It’s not that I wanted to feel this way; it’s just the wiring in my brain.

Fortunately, I found the inspiration I needed to fight.

What truly got me through was music. If you’ve ever heard of Florence and the Machine, you’re blessed. I’m blessed every day to hear her music and I was even more blessed to see her live for the fourth time during chemo. That’s what pushed me every day — staying healthy so that I could do all the things people told me I wouldn’t be able to do. Can most people say they’ve gone to Austin City Limits alone four days after a chemo treatment? I doubt it. But I did it.

Florence sent me a journal signed, “To Mia, All my love, Florence.” To know she wrote my name and knew my story is incredible. If I ever meet her in person, I would love to explain that her music has inspired me.

With cancer, there are good days and there are bad days. Some days, I feel amazing. Other days, honestly, I feel like the ugliest cotton swab to walk the Earth. But the good days outweigh the bad.

No one wants pain and no one wants to feel like “that sick cancer patient.” We just want to be seen and heard. This is just the ride we’re on, but I’m gaining control of the wheel.

Each milestone matters, from your first chemo to your last. You get through one day, then you get through another and another until you can look back and say, Wow, I got through all of that. 

Cancer has definitely opened my eyes to know I have a purpose.

Cancer has definitely opened my eyes to know I have a purpose. You and I are so strong. Surviving this means I can live my life how I want to live it, which is making movies. This is something I’ve always loved and a dream I plan to pursue.

What cancer feels like to me

Cancer is many things to me. Cancer is my bones feeling like they were broken and my lungs feeling like beef jerky. It’s waking up in the middle of the night covered in sweat even when the A/C is on 60 degrees.

Cancer is having your blood drawn every other week before a treatment and some days, feeling no desire to pick your head up. It’s not being able to recognize the person in the mirror.

Cancer is fighting to find humor in the midst of it all. Jokes are something I have a lot of, regardless if people laugh at them or not. I still have my dry humor and if a cancer patient makes a joke about cancer, then it’s valid to laugh.

Cancer is missing what you had before. Having a double mastectomy, I initially felt like I lost my womanhood. I had a hard time as a teenager walking around with bigger breasts than my friends, but I didn’t appreciate them then as much as I miss them now. It’s a change I’m learning to embrace.

Cancer is running around the same hospital to appointments 15 minutes apart, to MRI after CAT scan after blood work, to doctor after doctor. I’ll be honest, I would sometimes forget my wonderful doctors’ names and why I was even seeing them. That’s how fast cancer happens. It happens fast and it hits you hard.

But for me, cancer is also a newfound appreciation for my life and the people in it.

People like my parents who’ve shown me unconditional love and support, and my therapist who keeps me grounded and reminds me that I am lovable. I’m grateful to my friends for their support and company, no matter if it was to vent or to just blow off steam with a random road trip. I’m also grateful to Florence and the Machine and to St. Vincent for giving me the words I needed on my darkest of days and for inspiring me every day to be a better person.

Most of all, I’m grateful to my body for working so hard and showing me that I am stronger than I believe.

This blog post was written by Mia Morin. For more stories like this, subscribe to the Scrubbing In newsletter.

2 thoughts on “What it’s like to be diagnosed with breast cancer at age 21”

  1. Pingback: 5 things I’ve learned fighting breast cancer in my 20s | Scrubbing In

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What it’s like to be diagnosed with breast cancer at age 21