A Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis at Age 24: Savanah’s Story (Pt. 1)

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month is dedicated to raising awareness about the impact of breast cancer, raising funds for research, supporting those with breast cancer, and advocating for ways to increase education and early detection.

For those who are part of the Every Day for MBC community, like 28-year-old Savanah Reynoso, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is also a time to combat myths related to breast cancer. For example, one myth is that metastatic breast cancer (MBC) – or stage IV breast cancer – only affects middle-aged or older women. But Savanah, who was diagnosed with MBC at just 24 years old, wants people to know that:

“Everyone’s story is different and needs to be shared. I want people to know that this can happen to young adults so that they can have the tools to manage it if it ever happens.”

Recently, Savanah and I sat down to discuss what metastatic breast cancer is, her diagnostic journey, and why she feels it is so crucial to raise awareness.

What is Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC)?

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC), as the name suggests, originates in the breast(s) before spreading (metastasizing) to other areas of the body. Around 30% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will eventually develop MBC, and in some cases, are not diagnosed until the cancer has metastasized. Areas of the body where the cancer may spread include the lungs, liver, brain, and bones. Symptoms vary based on where the cancer has spread. Potential symptoms can (but do not always) include:

  • A lump in the breast
  • Sudden, noticeable bone pain
  • Shortness of breath and/or difficulty breathing
  • Chronic cough
  • Appetite loss
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue and general weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes)
  • Headache
  • Seizures

However, this should not be considered an exhaustive list of symptoms. There are also multiple treatment options for metastatic breast cancer, which include surgical resection, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, radiation, chemotherapy, or inclusion into more specialized clinical trials.

Savanah’s Story

Five years ago, Savanah Reynoso took a shower that would alter the course of her life as she knew it. During the shower, she was performing a breast self-exam when she came across a worrying lump. She called her boyfriend at the time (now her husband) over; after feeling the lump, he felt similarly concerned. Luckily, Savanah’s mom lived a few houses down at the time, so Savanah was able to spend some time with her mom and attempt to relax. She explains:

“I had a cyst on that side a few years prior, so at first, I thought maybe the lump was nothing or maybe it was another cyst. But within two weeks, it had grown significantly and we realized it wasn’t normal.”

Soon after, Savanah went to the doctor, who referred her to a local center. After going in and explaining what she had found, the doctors sprung into action. This is, Savanah explains, somewhat abnormal:

“I’ve heard stories from a lot of young women whose doctors have blown them off or thought they were too young. I’m very lucky that my doctors took me seriously. They did an ultrasound right away and a biopsy that Friday”

The following week, the doctors called Savanah with the diagnosis: breast cancer. At first, Savanah was in complete shock. She explains:

“I felt numb. It was hard to process everything. And, at the time, I didn’t realize everything that would come with this diagnosis. The radiologist asked if there was anyone else I wanted them to call. I asked if she’d call my mom and explain. I also didn’t know that I was stage IV yet because they told me that I couldn’t have a full stage until after surgery.”

Performing breast self-exams, in combination with other screening methods, can help contribute to early detection. To learn how to perform a breast self-exam, check out this helpful resource from Breastcancer.org.

Making Decisions and Pursuing Treatment

Suddenly, Savanah was faced with the fact that she would need to make some important and life-altering decisions about her health. Was she going to get a lumpectomy or a double mastectomy? Which procedure lessened the chance of recurrence? Her doctors told her that she had a better chance with a double mastectomy, so that was the option she eventually chose. Savanah shares:

“That, in itself, was already really scary. I was in my mid-20s and it was a lot to take in. So I went to a local oncologist for surgery. I didn’t realize that treatment wasn’t going to end in the beginning. I didn’t even want anyone to know what was going on; I was just so set on getting through it, putting it behind me, and living my life. After the surgery, I wanted a second opinion on some things so I went to MD Anderson in Houston. When they redid some scans, they found that the cancer was in my liver too.”

It was at this time that Savanah’s cancer was finally able to be staged at stage IV. And it was also at this time that the full force of her experience really hit Savanah – that she, most likely, was not going to be able to return to the life she thought she would. She began researching but found some of the varied information online to be frightening (and, occasionally, false). But her doctors at MD Anderson remained optimistic. Savanah began intravenous chemotherapy and later transitioned to hormonal therapy, which kept her condition stable for about two years.

However, Savanah’s condition progressed in December 2020. Searching for a new option, she entered into a clinical trial. While that seemed to keep her stable for a bit, she recently learned about new progression in August 2022. Therefore, Savanah and her doctors once again are attempting new therapeutic options.

Join us in Part 2 as we discuss the mental health impact of a breast cancer diagnosis and Savanah’s advice for people who are newly diagnosed.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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