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021: 26 & Fu¢ked - A young woman's perspective

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

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Tammey is joined by three-time cancer survivor, founder of The Atrium Foundation, and author of "26 & Fu¢ked," Dorothy Paredes.

First diagnosed at just age 26, and then again at 36, Dorothy opens up about topics that are unique to a young woman navigating a breast cancer diagnosis and BRCA gene mutation.

Tammey and Dorothy discuss the often overlooked options for fertility preservation and have intimate conversations about the mental health ramifications of a cancer diagnosis, the importance of being your own medical advocate, treatment after-effects, and recurrence.

Diving into more personal topics, they take on dating and relationships. Sharing experiences and insights on navigating a cancer diagnosis and relationship simultaneously, and the self-protective mental barriers they each had created, and how they learned to let love back into their lives.

Together, they also tackle one of the more difficult and least discussed topics - depression. Sharing their own experiences, and the view that breast cancer patients and survivors need more than a pamphlet when it comes to the very real mental health impacts of surviving and thriving through cancer.

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Tammey Grable-Woodford

Hello and welcome to Your Killer Life, a podcast where we talk all things breast cancer. I’m your host, Tammey Grable-Woodford. And today we are talking with Dorothy Paredes. Dorothy, I probably said your last name wrongs. You’re going to have to correct me. You are a 42-year-old, three-time cancer survivor, an author, a speaker. And you have started a nonprofit, the Atrium Foundation, to help cancer survivors financially, which is a huge challenge for anyone who has been through this.

But goodness, I know that there are so much more that you can tell us about you. So take a moment, please, to introduce yourself.

Dorothy Paredes

Yeah. Thanks so much, Tammy. Really appreciate being here. And the last name was perfect. So yeah, I am a three-time cancer survivor. I actually have the bracket gene. I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was twenty-six, and that’s how I found that I had the gene, and then I was diagnosed when I was thirty-six and thirty-eight with ovarian cancer. And yeah, I wrote my first book, only book that I’ve written, “26 & Fu¢ked.”

In fact, it’s about my cancer story at twenty-six and all of the, you know, crazy, messy, shitty things that happen from getting a diagnosis. Any cancer diagnosis really I think has, it’s, it’s, it’s toll, you know, on, on people, their families, their lives, your decisions and. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s what, that’s what the book is kind of about. I know we’ll talk about a little bit more of that soon.

And the foundation is my passion. I think it’s something that I’ve always really wanted to do in my heart. I have the opportunity to be able to do it. And like you said. Being able to move through cancer and move through that journey of survivorship is hard, but it’s double hard; it’s triple hard. It’s just crazy hard when our insurance doesn’t do everything for us. When people may be out of jobs, you may be living paycheck to paycheck.

You have a family: you have life responsibilities. And that’s what we aim to do, is to be able to help alleviate some of that stress, alleviates some of that uncertainty so that we people can focus on healing in their journey with their families.

Tammey Grable-Woodford

That is so significant. And I am looking forward to diving in and talking a little bit more about the Atrium Foundation because you’re right. You know, I think a lot of times people, unfortunately, believe that breast cancer is an older woman’s disease or cancer, which is absolutely not true. I was still; I was forty-three when I was diagnosed. So I was older than you are in this moment. But I have spoken with so many thrivers who were diagnosed and are in their 20s, and it’s really kind of amazing.

So and yeah I, you work through it, you know, it is not one of the affordable diseases.

Dorothy Paredes

It’s not, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s insane, quite frankly. It’s something I think to kind of touch on it. And a couple of things, you’re right. Breast cancer. When I was twenty-six it was in 2005. And I feel like the one thing that I heard the most all the time was you’re so young, you’re so young, you know, you’re so young. And I even had doctors in my surgeon that I worked with just kind of pushed me aside because I was young, and she thought that it wasn’t anything because I was too young.

And it turns out, you know, if if I hadn’t pushed if I hadn’t really said, you know what, I just want this lump out. I don’t if it is something or is it something, it bothers me. I don’t want it. I can’t imagine how much. How how, what the situation could have turned out, you know, letting you go and, you know, in 2005 social media is not what it is today.

Right? I don’t think I was even on I was barely on Facebook, and I was barely, you know, smartphones. And doing all that stuff wasn’t really around. And so finally, a network of young survivors was hard. And anybody that I found that was young was ten years older than I was. So it was hard to find people to relate. And it’s sad now with social media, I can see more stories, which is great, and there is more awareness.

But it’s sad because I’m still seeing young ladies say the same thing, that they are still being pushed aside because of their age and that, I don’t know, something has to happen for that to change.

Tammey Grable-Woodford

It is a really interesting thing because I, at the age of 43, was told that I was young and healthy. And so I also, at the age of forty-three, had to advocate for the mammogram because I knew that the changes in my breast were continuously changing. They were not normal. And I had a provider ask me if I wasn’t sure that my nipple had always been inverted. Like I wouldn’t know that for sure. I’ve had them for forty-three years.

Oh yeah. Yeah. You know, I knew I had changes, but I still, at the age of 43, was told while you’re young and you’re healthy, and it’s probably not anything. And I had that moment of pause where I was like, well, I can listen to what I want to hear, which is I’m probably fine, or I can listen to what my body and my instincts are telling me that I know, which is that I am not.

And so pushed for that mammo. So I’m not quite sure what age it is that when we say no, seriously, something’s not right, we don’t get that push back because it is very interesting. And to see so many women who are in their 20s and in their 30s that have had this diagnosis is amazing to me. Yeah, I did not have the BRCA gene, at least that I know. Believe it or not, they did not do the genetic testing, and I haven’t gone back to do it.

I don’t have breast cancer that runs in the family. Tell me a little bit about. So you did advocate for yourself. You clearly had did you have a lumpectomy? Did you have a mastectomy? Was it after you had the tissue sent to pathology that you found out that it was BRCA? What was how did that work out?

Dorothy Paredes

Yeah. Yeah, that’s that’s an interesting… it’s an interesting question. And I think the one thing that before I dive even that I do want to say that you have totally, you know, to use the cliche term like hit the nail on the head with women advocating for themselves. You know, we know our bodies. Right. We grow up with them. I mean, we see them develop, and we see the changes that they go through. And I think that is first and foremost, if anybody could take anything away, is advocate for yourself, know yourself, don’t be shy.

If someone is not listening, go find another doctor, you know, because it shouldn’t be that way. And people shouldn’t have to put up such a fight or even have those questions and make you feel embarrassed for even being there, you know. So nail on the head. I’m glad you brought that up. But yeah, to answer your question on the BRCA gene and how I found it, I had a lump show up on the outer kind of right edge of my breast.

So it wasn’t in the middle, It wasn’t around my nipple. It was just on the outer right side. You wear underwire bras, you start feeling those things, you know, and I, I started feeling the discomfort, and I made an appointment with my primary care physician who happened to be out of town. And so they schedule me with another physician that I had never met before. So I was already nervous and kind of like, should I go? Should I not go? I don’t know this person, but I went. And when she listen to me, listen to what I was saying, listen to how I was feeling… my story. And she, you know, did a what is the word I’m looking for, breast exam.

And she’s like, yep, something’s something’s out of place. Something’s not right.

So she referred me to breast specialist, and when I went to the specialist, it was it was a very interesting, complex situation because like I was saying, I went to her and her first thought was like, it’s just a cyst, youre too young. You know, young women have dense breast tissue, it’s just don’t worry about it, and I was like, well, I would like to see I would like to know. And then I think the first thing that we did was a mammogram and an ultrasound, and it didn’t really show anything conclusive.

So, again, she was like, well, no big deal. You know, nothing showing up. You’re young. And so I think I kind of went on for a little while, maybe a couple of weeks or something, and it just kind of kept bothering me. So I made another appointment with her, went back, and that’s when she gave me the option for a fine needle aspiration. So we did do that, which is also like a crazy procedure, you know, sitting there with your arm up in the air and somebody taking a needle and like, poking, stabbing you. That was not pleasant.

But she did that. And then those results, I think, also came back as like non-conclusive. It wasn’t anything alarming, I don’t think. And I later learned with fine needle aspirations that they can give inconclusive results because if there is any part of the cell or the growth that has died and the needle gets impacted with those dead cells, then it’s going to give an inconclusive result. But she did say, like, if it really was bothering me, that I could go in and have it removed.

And so I opted for that. And so we did the lumpectomy and I went in to meet with her and get the results. And it was supposed to just be this normal, everyday kind of follow up. And she was supposed to just tell me that it was nothing and I was being crazy. And the first thing that she said when she sat down was “It’s cancer.” And I, I couldn’t tell from the way that it looked on the outside, but as soon as they cut into it to do the biopsy, they knew and, you know, then the whirlwind started from there.

But how I came to doing the BRCA testing was when I went to see my oncologist because I was young. And I also don’t know my medical history. I was adopted when I was an infant. I was six weeks old. And so I don’t have any of that information. That’s when my oncologist presented me with I would like for you to do this because I think it would help us understand your long term plan, you know, things that we have to be aware of, but also to know we just didn’t have the information.

So I opted to do the BRCA testing at the time. And that’s how I came to find that I had, unfortunately, the gene for both breast and ovarian cancer.

Tammey Grable-Woodford

Gotcha. So you had a lumpectomy, did you? And speaking then with your medical oncologist, were your margins clear and you were good with breast cancer, or were there more treatments? Did they recommend chemotherapy or radiation or hormone suppressing therapies, mastectomy, or kind of what happened after that? Yeah.

Dorothy Paredes

Yeah. So my surgeon, she when she had told me that I was diagnosed, she also kind of dropped this, you know, really heavy, crazy. Brick filled boot on me and was like, you have to remove everything, and I was like, why? Like, why do I need it? Am I dying? Like, what’s happening? You. And it was interesting because when she was pushing off my age for not wanting to move forward with removing the lump and thinking that it was nothing, all of a sudden my age became a factor.

And she said, well, because you’re so young and because, you know, you’re at the age you are and your hormonal fluctuations and et cetera, et cetera, I’m at a higher, I guess, risk for the cancer spreading and being more aggressive. So she was like, we got to… we have to remove everything. And I was like, what is everything? And she literally told me a full bilateral mastectomy and a full hysterectomy. And I you know, I was flabbergasted.

I didn’t know how to take that, but I think fortunately we were able to kind of hold the brakes on things. I asked her what my other options were, why I needed to do that, and that’s when she referred me to the oncologist and said, go talk to them oncologists. Let’s see what they say and then we can come back and make a decision. And when I spoke with my oncologist, I let him know, you know, I’d like to have kids, I wanted to have kids.

I wanted to be able to breastfeed. I wanted to be able to do that whole thing. And then that’s when, you know, after looking at everything, he came up with the plan of chemotherapy, radiation. But since I wasn’t having the mastectomies and after we had found I had BRCA, the treatment was going to be like I was at a very advanced stage of cancer. I think when I was diagnosed, I was a Stage 1b or something.

It was invasive ductal in, but it hadn’t spread. It did not spread throughout my lymphatic system or anything else. It was still, you know, pretty there. But because I was young and because I wasn’t doing mastectomies, yeah, I had to do a full round of carboplatin and Taxol and then. I think it was about 30 days of radiation, but fortunately, I didn’t have to do any hormone therapy.

Tammey Grable-Woodford

So I want to back up just a second, because this is one of those things that I don’t think it’s discussed enough.

You are 26. I was 43 and never wanted kids, and I will tell you, I never wanted kids until they told me I had estrogen, progesterone, positive cancer and that they might want to take my ovaries. And \then all of the sudden it’s like, do I or don’t I? Really not. But at 26. So this is huge. And I really do want to pause for a second, because one of the things that I haven’t actually talked about much on even this podcast is fertility preservation and having those conversations because there is no action without reaction in the breast cancer world; I’m sure in any cancer world with any medical procedure.

But this is the one I know. So whether it’s surgical, whether it is medical oncology, whether it is radiation, radiation oncology, there is whether it’s medications. There is no action without a reaction. So here you are at 26. And were you single at that time?

Dorothy Paredes

I was single, but I was dating, I did have. Yeah, that that was it. That’s an interesting story, too, but yeah, I was dating but not married.

Tammey Grable-Woodford

OK, so twenty-six, all of this news, decisions you have to make that are truly life-altering in addition to life-changing. So where you think it is that you’re going to go and sort of those dreams that we all have for ourselves as we plan our future all of this, sudden having new information that is causing pause and possibly considerable change to your path?