Close Call: A Young Woman's Breast Cancer Scare

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According to the National Cancer Institute, over 200,000 women learn they have breast cancer each year. One young woman, NPR intern Quand Robinson, tells how the disease almost took over her life.


Many of us have a friend or a family member whose life has been turned upside down by breast cancer. Quand Robinson is an intern for our program. She knows the fear of detecting that strange lump, and the fear that goes with not knowing what she needed to know about breast cancer.

QUAND ROBINSON: It's been said that what you don't know can't hurt you. Most people should know that this isn't true. I was 22-years-old, married, and looking forward to my senior year at Howard University in Washington, D.C. My life was full of new beginnings.

One night, I stood in the shower thinking about all the possibilities life held in store for me. And then I felt it - a lump in my right breast about the size of a marble. Cancer had always been a fear of mine. I watched the disease eat away my late great grandfather's once round body down to one of frail proportions. The disease claimed my grandmother before I had a chance to meet her.

Cancer invaded by aunt's left breast, and the doctors had to remove it. So I was scared. An early sunrise visit to the student clinic would ease my fears, or so I thought. I sat in the cold exam room at the student clinic. I reclined uneasily in an examination chair, nudging my lump with my fingertips. As the doctor pulled back the thin paper sheet draped across my chest, she began her examination.

She rattled off the questions like a checklist. They were all questions that I should have been able to answer, but I couldn't. I didn't know the specifics about my family's history of cancer, my own body, or breast cancer.

Before I left, the doctor referred me to a physician at Howard University Hospital. She gave me a write up for an ultrasound. I called my aunt who had breast cancer, and I wept. I felt like I had just begun my life, and all I could think about was, am I dying?

My aunt gave me a crash course on her experience with breast cancer. She found a lump on Wednesday. She scheduled an appointment with a doctor on Thursday. On Friday, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer was advanced and on the verge of metastasizing, or spreading. Fourteen days later, my aunt had a radical mastectomy. The doctors removed her left breast and 13 lymph nodes. She spent the next six months in chemotherapy.

I was startled to learn my aunt had a breast cancer gene. Her doctor advised her to notify her family members so they could be tested. I never got that message. I was in the sixth grade when she was diagnosed. I didn't even have breasts then. But 10 years and a few bras later, I should have been made aware of this information. The follow-up exam led me to an ultrasound, which led me to an oncologist.

While the lump didn't look cancerous, a biopsy was suggested. I scheduled one. I was awake for the entire procedure. The needle pierced my tumor. I wondered, is it cancer? After two mind-numbing weeks, I met with my doctor for the results. The lump was benign. Now I knew what the lump was, and there was satisfaction in knowing. During my experience, I realized I wasn't just fighting an invasion of my body. I was battling lack of information.

I thought I was pretty well informed about breast cancer. The truth was I knew of breast cancer, but I didn't know what it was. While I don't have all the answers, I do know what I know, and knowing is half the battle.

MARTIN: Quand Robinson is a student at Howard University and an intern for TELL ME MORE.

And now, we'd like to hear from you. If you're a breast cancer survivor or if you want to tell us a story about how breast cancer has touched your life, please visit our blog at

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