Michelle Berndt, diagnosed at 31

When I was pregnant with my second child, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. My OBGYN suggested that I get tested for the BRCA gene, which my great grandmother, grandmother, and mother all carried. In November 2011 we found out I too had the BRCA II gene.

After a lot of discussion with doctors and family prayer we decided to be proactive and schedule a preventative bilateral mastectomy. In preparation for the surgery I had a mammogram that came back clean. However, a couple months later I was showering and found a small lump on my left breast. I knew my body well and knew this wasn’t normal for me, so I told my husband and called the doctor immediately. Interestingly enough, my doctor thought I had the “pre-surgery jitters”, but he scheduled me to come in just in case.

On February 14, 2012 I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer – just 10 days before my surgery. We also found out the cancer was invasive and had started to spread to my armpit. Because mammograms aren’t 100% accurate, especially in younger women, it was vital that after my mammogram, I had continued to pay attention to my body and that I took action after I felt a lump.

“We all have power when it comes to our health – we can be empowered and we can, in turn, use our voices to empower others.”

On February 24, 2012 I had a bilateral mastectomy and the tumor was removed. Aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed. Afterward, I found that, because of the BRCA II gene, that I needed a hysterectomy as well.

At one point in time I had no hair, breasts or ovaries, and I frequently found myself asking, “What makes me a woman?”

That is when I found out what true inner beauty is all about. I have a desire to share this experience with other young people so they don’t have to learn the hard way. We all have power when it comes to our health – we can be empowered and we can, in turn, use our voices to empower others. Really it’s simple; know your body! You’re the expert on what it’s like to be in your own skin so speak up when something does not feel right.

I do not blame God for my cancer. In fact I believe he gave it to me for a reason to change the lives of those I meet. Cancer DOES NOT discriminate and can come knocking on your door anytime it feels like it. I am on a mission to spread awareness to young adults in hopes they will take care of their bodies and know their family history before it’s too late. For every bad thing that happens in life, something good will come out of it but you must remember one thing – attitude is everything!

Symptom

  • small lump on left breast detected on self-exam