‘Will I be able to have a family?’ The rooms were filled with old ladies. I knew in my gut it wasn’t good.’: Breast cancer survivor inspires others, ‘I look forward to a beautiful future’

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“My name is Monique Costa and I’m 32 years old. I’ve always had a history of fibroadenomas or benign cysts which are usually nothing to worry about. I found my first one in college and then another shortly after. Both were surgically removed and came back benign. However, lying in bed one night while I was doing a self-exam, I found a lump in my left breast, right where the underwire of my bra would be. For some reason, I had a feeling this lump was different.

Even though it moved around like my other cysts, it felt really hard and was about the size of a small grape. The next morning, I called my breast specialist right away. I had just seen him two months ago for my full breast exam. He knew that nothing showed up in my ultrasound in July, but still wanted me to come in and see him. He didn’t seem overly concerned. I remember taking a shower that night thinking something was wrong. I just knew it in my gut.

Courtesy of Monique Costa

When I went to his office by myself, I was full of nerves and anxiety. After feeling the lump, he wanted me to go down to the Radiology department and get another ultrasound. He got me an appointment that same day which was also concerning to me. As I was laying down in the ultrasound room, the tech was looking at the images and she sat down next to me. She put her hands on my leg and said, ‘What are your plans after this?’ Caught off guard, I had no clue what she meant. Did something show up in my scans? I told her, ‘I’ll see my doctor.’ And she just shook her head in agreement and left the room. I had no answers. Walking to my car, I started to cry.

Calling my mom in a panic, she came with me to my second appointment with my doctor. As I sat in his office waiting for the results, he showed me a picture of the mass in my imaging pictures. I knew after looking at the images they weren’t good. My doctor mentioned, ‘Benign cysts, like you’ve had in the past, are usually smooth and have smooth edges.’ He showed me the rigid edges that characterized my lump. He said, ‘I want to do a biopsy to eliminate the possibility of cancer. I am pretty sure it is another fibroadenoma, but just want a confirmation.’ As he was conducting the biopsy, he was putting my mind at ease since he mentioned the biopsy was easy and if it was cancer, it wouldn’t be that easy. He told me he would call in a few days with the results and I went on my way trying not to worry.

Two days later, as I was sitting at my desk at work, I saw the hospital number show up on my cell phone. I grabbed my phone and ran into the kitchen at work. My doctor’s words still bring me back to that day, ‘Monique, I’m so, so sorry. It came back as breast cancer. It’s early and the chance of survival is over 95%. You will need a breast MRI next. I wish I could treat you, but I know there are better specialists out there. I’m going to send you to the best surgeon at Mass General.’ The rest was a blur.

Courtesy of Monique Costa

My doctor was choked up on the phone and I knew this news caught us both by surprise. I gathered my computer at work, sent my boss an email, called my mom and boyfriend at the time bawling and screaming. I have no idea how I drove home. I felt like I was in shock and was in a bad dream. I thought, ‘How do I have cancer at 27 years old? I have no family history. I’m healthy. I want a family. Will I be able to have a family? Will I need chemo? Will I lose my hair?’ The questions just kept flooding my mind.

The next few days consisted of endless scans, a mammogram, breast MRI, brain MRI, chest/abdomen CT scan, bone scan and endless blood draws. Many doctor appointments later, I was diagnosed with stage two, triple positive breast cancer at 27 years young.

My journey started with a lumpectomy and lymph node biopsy. After surgery, I had 6 rounds of intense chemo (TCHP) and a year of Herceptin infusions. I then had 33 rounds of radiation. I’m currently on Tamoxifen and a monthly injection called Lupron for 5 years. I’m in menopause and it’s a ton of fun… not! My last injection will be January 2021 and I’m counting down the days for this huge milestone.

Courtesy of Monique Costa

In preparation of losing my hair from chemo, I bought a wig that looked exactly like my hair. I was dreading the day it would fall out in the shower or in my bed. I knew the exact time it would start to fall out and I made an appointment to get my head shaved. Unfortunately, that day came, and my grandfather was in his last days from suffering from lung cancer. After he passed, I knew I had to do a speech at his funeral, and I wanted my hair to just stay for that day. It did and a few days later, I got it shaved. I felt so nervous and scared to see what I would look like with no hair. My mom, sisters and now husband at the time, accompanied me. I felt so good after getting my head shaved and I wasn’t going to let cancer take that from me.

Courtesy of Monique Costa

Being diagnosed with breast cancer at such a young age, I felt so alone. Every time I went to the doctors, the waiting rooms were filled with older ladies staring at me. Never in a million years did I think I would have to go through chemo and lose my hair or get burned from radiation. I didn’t know that my life would consist of constant doctor appointments, scans and the fear of the unknown. I was angry and scared.

Courtesy of Monique Costa

Throughout my journey, I wanted to create awareness that young women can and do get breast cancer and it is so important to be in tune with your body and be a self-advocate. I didn’t have any family history and I was a healthy young adult. I had no risk factors and I still got breast cancer.

I started sharing my journey through my blog and also social media. If I can help one woman check themselves and report anything to their doctor if it doesn’t seem right, I know that I am helping many across the world. I’m also involved with many young advocate groups. Sharing my story has allowed me to find other young women across the world who just ‘get it.’ They understand what it’s like to have hot flashes, talk about a family after cancer and the fear of recurrence.

Courtesy of Monique Costa

Throughout treatment, so many people asked, ‘How can you still have a smile on your face while battling for your life?’ Trust me, there were days I didn’t smile, and I would just cry. I still have those days and I deal with anxiety; something I’ve never had in my life. My strength and resilience are what makes me feel strong.

I didn’t recognize myself throughout treatment. My hair is back to my pre-cancer length and I’ve gained weight throughout treatment. It’s so hard to look in the mirror and not become discouraged that I don’t have my pre-cancer body. Instead of getting upset, I focus on my strength and how I was able to overcome something that was so challenging. I appreciate that I can work out and eat healthy. Not being able to get off the couch from chemo and feeling so nauseous, brighter days seemed so far away. I continue to wear a smile on my face and appreciate my strength, while also looking forward to my beautiful future.

Courtesy of Monique Costa

If I can help one person check themselves then I know I’ve made a difference. If you are going through this journey, please don’t give up and continue to smile.

Courtesy of Monique Costa

Almost five years out of treatment, I appreciate my health. I got married to my boyfriend who was there every day throughout my journey. He loved me with no hair and continues to be by my side. As we start to have discussions about getting off my medicine and starting a family, I couldn’t be happier to have a normal life and leave cancer in the past. Cancer doesn’t define me.”

Courtesy of Monique Costa

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Monique Costa of Stoughton, MA. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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