Updated: October 22, 2020 07:28 PM
Created: October 22, 2020 07:13 PM
Young moms in the Twin Cities who are battling a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer are finding ways to support each other through their difficult diagnoses.
In the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they want other young women to know they are not alone.
Charissa Bates, Ashley Wolf, Krystal Reed and Kim Jaeger were all diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.
"Triple-negative breast cancer is not good at all. It's rare and they have not found a targeted therapy," said Bates, a 35-year-old mother of three in Woodbury. "I have to say that was the hardest part of being diagnosed was looking at my kids and wondering if they'd have a mother."
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer.
Their website states: "Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for about 10-15% of all breast cancers. The term triple-negative breast cancer refers to the fact that the cancer cells don't have estrogen or progesterone receptors and also don't make too much of the protein called HER2. Triple-negative breast cancer is considered an aggressive cancer because it grows quickly, is more likely to have spread at the time it's found and is more likely to come back after treatment than other types of breast cancer. The outlook is generally not as good as it is for other types of breast cancer."
"It has a 74% survival rate, compared to 92-94% for other breast cancers," Bates said. "So when I was diagnosed, I thought, who am I going to talk to about this? No one understands."
Bates said she learned of several other women in Woodbury facing the same diagnosis and connected with them through mutual friends and church groups.
"Charissa and I actually taught in the same school district," said Wolf, who also lives in Woodbury. "Everybody wanted to connect me with some grandma they had, some aunt, and that's really hard because they're 60, 70 years old and here I was sitting at 31. So it's really nice to have these people you can be vulnerable with that are going through the same thing."
Bates started a Woodbury chapter of the Young Survival Coalition, a national organization designed for people in their 40s or younger who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
"The open arms is more of what it is than anything, where everyone's welcome and there's this almost unspoken sisterhood," said Reed, who was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in April at age 37.
The women said they have supported each other through difficult moments, shared personal triumphs and found they can laugh about awkward body changes.
"It just gave me a sense of hope," Bates said. "Until I met them, I didn't know anybody else with this diagnosis. It's just nice to have a group of younger women who understand."
"Yes, we're young and we're not supposed to get breast cancer, but I mean obviously we do. There's four of us right here," said Jaeger, who also lives in Woodbury and was diagnosed with estrogen-positive breast cancer in 2014.
"And just being aware is the biggest part of finding the cancer early, continuing to find the answers and not let doctors tell you, 'It's nothing, you're too young, it can't be breast cancer.' We are all young women who got cancer," she said.
The Minnesota Department of Health is encouraging anyone who canceled or delayed their regular mammogram to schedule an appointment soon.
A new breast cancer report from MDH shows a 30-year trend of decreasing mortality rates, suggesting improved diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in Minnesota. The report shows survival rates of about 93%, due to decades of progress in early diagnosis and treatment. However, public health officials are now concerned that delays in breast cancer screenings in 2020 due to the pandemic may slow the progress.
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