Fitting in is something most of us have struggled with at one time or another, whether on the school playground, with a new group of friends, or the sales conference at work. My greatest challenge to fit in has been with the breast cancer survivor community.
Being a 28-year old with breast cancer is certainly not the norm, but it’s my norm. When I started going to my appts at Mass General, I was always the youngest patient in the waiting room by a large margin. When my mother would take me to my appts, the nurses mistook her for the patient on several occasions. All the literature for breast cancer patients was aimed at the over 50 crowd. There were pamphlets on how to relate to your children while you go through treatment, and support groups for spouses, etc. I was more interested in information on preserving my fertility, and how to talk with my parents and siblings about my cancer. There was very little of that kind information available. I felt very isolated and alone.
I struggled with sometimes feeling angry that I had no one to relate to as I watched the other women in the waiting room make friends and bond over their common situations, many with husbands or grown children in tow. Other times, I was glad that I didn’t see anyone else my age going through breast cancer. I hoped I was the only one so young. According to the National Cancer Institute:
From 2004-2008, the median age at diagnosis for cancer of the breast was 61 years of age. Approximately 0.0% were diagnosed under age 20; 1.9% between 20 and 34; 10.2% between 35 and 44; 22.6% between 45 and 54; 24.4% between 55 and 64; 19.7% between 65 and 74; 15.5% between 75 and 84; and 5.6% 85+ years of age.
Even today at 32, I stick out like a sore thumb in the waiting room during my annual mammogram. As we all sit in the small room in our robes waiting for our turn, the women talk about their children and grandchildren, retirements and divorces. They talk about their treatment, pain, recurrence and fears, all while I read my Cosmo magazine feeling so alone. I want so badly to be included in this group that no one wants to be in. It is a strange dichotomy, wanting to belong and not belong at the same time.