The day began like every other: a quick shower, a bite to eat, and mad dash out the door in hopes I would make it to work on time, except this time, I never made it past step one. Here I was, a working twenty-something-year-old with big dreams, huge goals, and a small lump in my breast that had the potential to wipe everything away.

I was too young for breast cancer. I did not know anyone who’d had it. I had no family history of it. Yet, there I was, hands shaking, knees quaking, heart beating out of my chest. I had a lump and didn’t know what to do about it.

I ran out of the restroom in nothing more than a towel and a flood of tears and asked my roommate to feel it. Panic did not even begin to define what happened in the next few minutes. We were a mess, a pair of inexperienced ‘kids’ who thought the world had come to an end.

An emergency call to my general practitioner led to an office visit, a mammogram, a diagnostic mammogram, and an ultrasound. Techs were on standby for a biopsy. The radiologist hovered nearby. I thought my fate was sealed. I had breast cancer and life as I knew it had come to an end.

The consummate professional, the radiologist leaned over me as my heart beat uncontrollably out of my chest and said that I had what looked like a fibroadenoma (a non-cancerous tumor). Other tests followed, my brush with a devastating diagnosis was over, but the lessons learned will forever be a part of me.

One seemingly innocuous shower took me down a road I did not think possible at my age. I was not even doing a breast exam. A quick turn, a jarring movement, a near slip and fall and I felt a lump. My almost-nightmare taught me a valuable lesson. Breast health was nothing to ignore. It did not take long before my friends, and I were talking about it, and more importantly, marking our calendars to make out monthly checks. Our lives depended on it. Something that we thought couldn’t touch us until we were older proved to be just as dangerous for us as it was for anyone.

After several tests, many appointments, and countless hours of research, I finally had my lumpectomy. During those agonizing weeks between lump to diagnosis to how to treat my condition, I became very introspective. I devoured information and had many heart to heart talks with my loved ones. I recreated myself. I learned to eat better, become more vigilant in my approach to my health, and to live a more purpose-driven life. I put my body and my health first. Somehow, nights out didn’t seem as relevant any longer. Drinks and late-night binges were not all the rage. I let go of my “devil may care” attitude and learned to make better choices. Natural products replaced my go-to favorites. Real food became a top priority. Living trumped everything else in my life.

While I hope and pray no one, no matter their age ever finds a lump, I know that my health scare changed my life for the better.

By Sarah Wester