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Published on October 14, 2013

Think Pink: Young Women Should Be Aware of Breast Cancer Risk

SIOUX FALLS (Oct. 1, 2013) – Nearly seven months pregnant with her second child, Shelly Clayton was doubtful that the lump she felt in her breast could be cancerous. After all, she was only 28 years old.

Yet an ultrasound showed changes in a lump that had been checked before. Shelly had a lumpectomy, and the diagnosis came back as cancer. “I was shocked,” Shelly said. “I thought breast cancer was something that happened after 40.”

Shelly, who then lived in Tripp, S.D. and now in Tea, soon learned that she was not alone. In fact, 7 percent of all breast cancers happen to women under age 40. For Shelly, there was no family history to blame. “I was the first in my family to have breast cancer.”

At 28 weeks into a healthy pregnancy, Shelly faced some tough decisions, balancing the safety of her unborn baby with her need for cancer treatment. She opted for a mastectomy in the affected breast. The tumor, while a stage 1, was 8.6 cm in size. Three weeks after the birth of her baby girl, Kendall, Shelly began six rounds of chemotherapy as a preventative measure. The tumor was HER2 positive, so she also took Herceptin to prevent a recurrence. Later, she had the other breast removed and underwent reconstructive surgery.

“It was an anxious time. Breast cancer was always on my mind. I just had to be patient and wait,” Shelly said. In fact, the waiting was the hardest. “I had heard the horror stories about chemo, but once I had the first one out of the way and knew what it was like, it eased my fears,” said Shelly, who is a pharmacist. Her daughter, Cameron, just 3 years old at the time, became like a little adult, telling others that she was going home to take care of her mommy. “After surgery, I couldn’t lift her into her car seat, so she learned to climb up and get in it herself,” Shelly added. Shelly’s husband, Aaron, and family helped with the added duties of taking care of a newborn.

Cancer is a scary diagnosis for anyone, but especially for a young mom. “The farther out I got from the diagnosis, the less scared I was,” Shelly said. All her checkups since have been good, and she is only six months away from being a five-year survivor.

Shelly advises young women to know their bodies, and speak up when something doesn’t feel right. “You need to be your own advocate. It’s important to fight for your own health – not just with breast cancer, but anything.”

Shelly is an Avera “Pink Lady,” advocating for breast cancer awareness and early detection. She advises women of all ages to be aware of breast cancer and vigilant about early detection.  The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for early detection of breast cancer: 

  • Yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.
  • Clinical breast exam about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.
  • Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care provider. Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.

Shelly had BRCA testing done for gene mutations which place women at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer. It was negative, which bodes well for her daughters, Cameron, now 7, and Kendall, 4.

“Although breast cancer in young women is uncommon, it still happens – I’m living proof of that,” Shelly added.

To learn more go to www.AveraCancer.org