One Woman's Brave Battle with Breast Cancer
Cancer is supposed to strike when you’re older, much older, not in your early 20s before you’ve graduated from college, gotten married, or had a baby.
But Donna Hwang knows this scenario is riddled with holes and doesn’t always hold true. Today, she is a 33-year-old woman glowing with married bliss and pregnancy. She married a doctor on December 9, 2011 in front of 300 guests who danced the night away to the sounds of Motown.
But this fairytale hit quite a low before ultimately giving Donna her happily ever after.
She married one of the pathologists who assisted with her 2003 breast cancer diagnosis that came when she was just 24 years old. According to her team of doctors, she was the second-youngest patient they had ever diagnosed. Donna, at that time, worked in the medical records department of a small hospital and attended Eastern Michigan University. She was, by her own admission, an ordinary college student trying to carve her way in the world.
Her life instantly flipped upside down, however, when she learned of her diagnosis. Donna quit work and school to undergo five months of intense chemotherapy. In the meantime, she lost all of her long, golden hair, underwent multiple surgeries, and had a mastectomy with reconstruction.
“You don’t know what you can do until you have to,” Donna says. “You can’t imagine losing your hair and having your breast reconstructed until it’s a life-saving measure.”
Donna’s family has a reported genetic weakness for cancer, and several of her relatives have previously been diagnosed with the disease. Her maternal grandfather, for instance, developed breast cancer long before Donna did (this is a rare occurrence; men have a 1 in 1,000 lifetime risk for the disease). Armed with this information, Donna knew she would likely confront cancer at some point in her life – probably in her 50s or 60s. Until then, she would live her life to the fullest.
As people are so often inclined to do, she took her health for granted. She forewent regular self breast exams and pushed the thought of cancer out of her mind. That is, until the day she discovered a lump in her breast. Alarmed, she went to her doctor and shortly afterward received the news.
“I am grateful to God for providing everything I needed,” she recalls of those singular moments in her life.
24,000 American women under 45 receive a breast cancer diagnosis every year, and 3,000 of them will die from the disease. Breast cancer is never easy, but it's especially hard on young women, as their biology, mentality, and social lives are different from their older counterparts.
Donna, with her optimistic views on life, doesn’t focus on any of this. After treatment, she slowly recovered both her health and natural confidence. She began dating her pathologist several years later and returned to work at the hospital. Today she is busy planning for the arrival of her first-born child and helping fellow cancer patients obtain the services they need (such as transportation to and from treatments, proper nutrition, medical supplies, etc.).
Her story, which reads not unlike a modern-day romance, offers two crucial lessons to women everywhere: 1) self-exams can and do save lives, and their importance can never be over-estimated; and 2) cancer doesn't have to be a life-ending disease. People triumph over it every day, determined to beat the odds and come out stronger and better than ever.
“I learned and grew so much,” Donna says of her battle. “Cancer is the best worse thing that ever happened to me.”