While breast cancer is often thought of as something to be proactive about after 40, in this series, Breast Cancer At Any Age, we speak to women who had scares or battled breast cancer at a much younger age than expected.
Imagine freezing your eggs, undergoing meticulous chemotherapy treatments, crafting your will and considering planning your funeral, all at the beginning of the third decade of your life. “I had to really process the idea that the thing that makes me a woman, the thing that makes me feminine is the thing that’s killing me,” breast cancer survivor Nicole Anderson explains.
The Atlanta native didn’t feel a “lump,” which is the common sign that something is wrong. Instead, she describes it as an indention on her left breast. After looking in the mirror, she didn’t think much of it, but it started to cause her pain, so she finally made an appointment with her doctor. Shortly after, she received the devastating news that she had Stage 2 triple positive breast cancer at the age of 31 in 2022. “You go deaf,” she recalls. “All I could remember was writing down certain words like ‘call the nurse,’ ‘cancer.’ I was so discombobulated. Your brain is just trying to process like… did she just say I had cancer? It doesn’t even register. And then all of a sudden I broke down and I was crying hysterically.”
One’s 30s are prime child-bearing years, which Anderson’s physician made clear when it was recommended that she should find a backup plan to keep motherhood within reach.
“He asked that it take a month or less because they couldn’t wait longer than a month. The cancer was growing so increasingly fast that it could go from Stage 2 to Stage 4 in a short amount of time. So, before I even started my chemo treatments, I had to go through a very rigorous IVF process just to preserve eggs so that I could hold on to the idea of having kids one day, and I think that’s the thing we don’t think about when we’re talking about women who are younger getting these diagnoses. There’s certain aspects of this process that other women may not have to consider. They told me I had to get a mastectomy. They highly recommended both breasts, but that means I will never be able to experience breastfeeding,” she says.
Anderson had no pre-existing health conditions or family history of breast cancer. Because of that, she hopes to be a trusted source for young women battling a disease that has claimed so many lives. It can happen to anyone.
“The only association I have with cancer is death because my grandmother passed away from pancreatic cancer,” she says. “So I didn’t know much about what breast cancer was. You get hung up on there’s something that’s not supposed to be in my body.”
In the simplest of terms, she describes her diagnosis as three different proteins that were feeding on the cancer, which spread from her left breast to the right one and also her lymph nodes. Doctors told her that receiving a triple positive diagnosis 20-25 years ago would have been considered deadly because the medical field didn’t have therapy to target that particular protein. “Once it spreads into your lymph nodes, it’s pretty much there. It’s as if it becomes more deadly because now the cancer has figured out your DNA. It’s figured out how to escape the pocket that it grew in,” she says. “You’re going to have these thoughts of all the things you haven’t done yet and it’s like ‘God, there’s no way you put all this on me and that’s going to be taken away right now.’ The initial finding out phase, it was disbelief.”
The millennial entrepreneur underwent six rounds of chemotherapy lasting roughly nine hours each time. Eleven rounds of immunotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation (every day for 25 days), a mastectomy and finally reconstruction in July 2023 of breast implants. “I felt like 2022 was more of being in survival mode and this year I completed the treatments. So with the final surgery in July of this year, I feel like I’m just now getting to a point of processing the emotional impact of that because you’re scared out of your mind.”
Anderson’s story is still being written, but she can now refer to cancer in the past tense and focus on turning her tests into testimonies after ringing the cancer-free bell in May of 2022. Up next is getting back to pouring into her brand.
She’s CEO of HER Wine, a company that was born out of a personal need for representation, created before her diagnosis. As a passionate wine enthusiast, Anderson often found herself wandering through wine stores, searching for a bottle that truly stood out and spoke to her. The name HER stands for “Having Evolved Repeatedly.” She produced a collection that is more than a brand; it’s a movement, a mindset and a lifestyle that encapsulates the remarkable journey of women’s ups and downs. “Wine was the thing that gave me purpose through my pain, allowing me to have something to look forward to. I experienced some of the largest wins during my treatments.
“A Toast to Me,” a sparkling rose, is a nod to her breast cancer journey. “I wanted to use this bottle as an opportunity, even a permission slip for women to force themselves to have those moments of relaxation and toast to themselves for every day that they get to pursue their passion and go after their goals. It means a lot because those days can be counted,” she says.
“I want to help women prioritize self-care and not get so bogged down on the grind that they neglect themselves or worse, are so consumed with stress trying to meet unrealistic expectations, that disease manifests inside them,” she says. “It could happen to anyone. It may not be cancer, but it could be a cyst, heart attack, hives, extreme exhaustion, anything.”
What a critical reminder to us all that self-care is far from selfish, it is essential to our well-being – to our survival.
You can support the special Breast Cancer Awareness rose and learn more about Nicole’s wine company here. Year-round proceeds of sales of this special blend are donated to an Atlanta-based non-profit, I Will Survive, which offers philanthropic support to breast cancer patients and their families.
Previous Breast Cancer at Any Age: After Being Dismissed By Her Ob-Gyn, Kayla Medley Was Diagnosed At 23
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