By Alyce Collins
DOCTORS REFUSED to do a biopsy on a lump this TWENTY-SEVEN-YEAR-OLD found in her breast because she was ‘too young’ for cancer until it TRIPLED IN SIZE and she demanded a biopsy which revealed stage three cancer, leading her to pioneer for young women to be believed when they fear something is wrong.
Programs coordinator at Rethink Breast Cancer, Emily Piercell (31) from Ontario, Canada, was an aspiring lawyer, but in May 2015 she noticed a lump in her breast which she went to get checked out.
Emily’s doctor wasn’t concerned by the lump because she had no family history of breast cancer and she was only 27 at the time. Emily was sent for an ultrasound and doctors concluded that the lump was dense tissue and nothing of concern, so they didn’t do a biopsy.
Over the next three months, Emily’s lump tripled in size and grew to 10 centimetres in both length and width. Emily returned to her doctor who sent her for another ultrasound which, again, showed the lump as just dense tissue. However, Emily pushed for a biopsy to be done this time, despite the radiologist’s reluctance.
The biopsy revealed that Emily had triple positive stage three breast cancer. Doctors had told Emily she was too young to have cancer, which was why they initially refused to do a biopsy, and this added further to her state of shock at her diagnosis.
Emily began chemotherapy in September 2015 until January 2016, followed by a double mastectomy in March 2016. Chemotherapy made Emily incredibly weak and she struggled with nausea, bone pain and mouth sores. In May 2016, Emily began 25 rounds of radiation which severely damaged her skin.
Emily had to advocate to be given a biopsy, but if she wasn’t so persistent her diagnosis could have been much worse further down the line. However, Emily has come out on the other side feeling stronger and more confident.
“In May 2015, I noticed a lump in my breast when I was checking one day,” said Emily.
“I had recently changed birth control and within one cycle my hands and feet were swollen, and I noticed a large lump in my right breast.
“I went to my family doctor who wasn’t concerned but she sent me for a biopsy and ultrasound anyway. The ultrasound looked like the lump was normal dense tissue, so the radiologist didn’t do a biopsy, but he sent me for a mammogram which came back negative.
“Over the next three months, my lump tripled in size and took up my entire breast. It was 10 by 10 centimetres by this point.
“I went back to my family doctor who sent me for another ultrasound and biopsy. Again, the ultrasound looked like normal dense tissue. Fortunately, this time, I advocated for myself and insisted on a biopsy because I knew it wasn’t normal. The biopsy came back showing I had breast cancer.
“My family doctor wasn’t concerned because I have no family history and I was only 27 then. The radiologist didn’t do a biopsy the first time because I was too young, and the next radiologist almost didn’t biopsy the lump for the same reasons.
“The second time I went for an ultrasound, the radiologist nearly didn’t even come into the room. I kept saying to the technician that my lump wasn’t normal, so he went to speak to the radiologist and told him he had to look for himself because one breast felt hard.
“Treatment was really difficult. I was nauseous, weak, moody, had bone pain and mouth sores. The first week after chemotherapy I couldn’t take care of myself. The second week I felt better and by the third week I was back to normal, just a weaker version.
“Losing my breasts felt like I lost a limb and a part of myself. I was so scared to be done with chemotherapy and move onto surgery. Then, radiation was okay, but it killed my skin.”
In June 2017 Emily was called to the bar and became a lawyer, but after going on a retreat with Rethink Breast Cancer, Emily sent them her CV for opportunities in their legal department, but they said they could use her help elsewhere in the company until a legal position became available.
Once she was in the company, Emily loved supporting other young women fighting breast cancer and stopped looking for legal positions.
“By the time I eventually received my breast cancer diagnosis, we knew the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I had a lymph node biopsy within a few days of receiving my diagnosis,” said Emily.
“At the time of my mastectomy, after chemotherapy, there was still cancer in three lymph nodes. I know, without a doubt, I would have had a different diagnosis if I didn’t insist on the biopsy. Within three months the tumour grew from nothing to my whole breast.
“The summer after my last surgery, I went on Rethink Breast Cancer’s retreat. I got to speaking to Rethink employees and sent my CV to them to pass along to their lawyer contacts.
“She responded saying they needed help there so I could work there until I found the perfect law position. I eventually stopped looking for law work because I loved working for the charity.
“I started working for Pink Pearl Canada in January 2019. I have been a participant, then a volunteer and when I saw the opening for a part time position, I knew I had to apply.
“Legal work didn’t make me feel good in the way that what I’m doing now does. I think I’m where I’m supposed to be. Some days I’m still hard on myself about not being a lawyer because I worked hard to be one, but I have different priorities now.
“My career has changed, and I have dedicated my life to helping other young women who are dealing with cancer.
“Cancer is awful, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but I’m doing really well now. I’m more confident in myself and celebrate all my little victories. Life really does get better with time and I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was.”