By Liana Jacob
MEET THE stunning woman who was dismissed by doctors for EIGHT YEARS after discovering a lump in her breast before being diagnosed with stage 3 BREAST CANCER and says that shaving her head felt EMPOWERING.
Assistant food and beverage manager, Tatiana Konovalov (27), from California, USA, was just 19-years-old when she found a lump in her breast and made an appointment. Despite being checked and having an ultrasound, her doctor brushed it off as a benign cyst.
Although she initially accepted it as a harmless lump, she continued to have it checked just in case, but was continually dismissed by doctors who assured her she was ‘too young’ to have breast cancer. However, as it grew bigger and more uncomfortable, her boyfriend, Erik (28), insisted for her to ask the doctor to remove it.
Following a biopsy in September 2018, the tests found that she did in fact have stage three breast cancer and on the same day she met up with an oncologist, radiologist and a geneticist. A week later she had a lumpectomy on her right breast to remove the tumour and underwent six aggressive rounds of chemotherapy. After her second round of chemo in November 2018, she decided to shave her head to avoid having to witness her hair falling out which she describes as ‘empowering’, so her boyfriend assisted her. She had a full mastectomy in March 2019 after she completed her rounds of chemotherapy.
While her tests have shown that the chemo has worked and she no longer has any remaining cancer cells, her journey has not yet finished. She will still undergo 10 more rounds of antibody therapy to treat the cancer cells and in a month’s time she will begin radiation therapy and is due to have another mastectomy and reconstruction surgery later this year.
She is now adjusting to her new normal life and has been embracing her journey with her boyfriend by posting on social media to help other women going through a similar ordeal to find hope and positivity in the darkest of circumstances.
“I first noticed my lump when I was nineteen-years-old; I had it checked and an ultrasound was conducted. My doctor at the time dismissed it as a cyst or fibroadenoma that would go away with time,” Tatiana said.
“After my first dismissal I just accepted that it was a lump, but it was not dangerous. But I routinely had the spot checked by doctors at yearly physicals, but no one was concerned because of my age.
“I received answers like, ‘it’s an unnecessary surgery’ and ‘if it was cancer, it would be affecting you already’. Finally, my partner insisted that I go to the doctor and ask to have it removed because it had seemed to be growing and was uncomfortable.
“Up until my doctors had the biopsy results, they denied the fact that it could be breast cancer. No one wants to insist to a doctor that they might have breast cancer, now I know that I should have pushed harder.
“I was dismissed mostly because of my age and lack of family history. At nineteen, it was likely not breast cancer, and so rarely happens at that age, that it was dismissed.
“But as I got older, my doctors should have taken a more active role in monitoring my lump. I try not to look back and think about the ‘what-ifs’ but it’s an important reminder to women.
“Women should advocate for their health, especially for diseases like breast cancer that are not screened for regularly until later in life.
“When I was diagnosed, I imagine I felt like most people do when they hear the ‘C’ word. My life came to a screeching halt.
“I got the diagnosis Saturday and by 8am Monday I would start a day of meeting doctors; we didn’t leave the doctor’s office until 4pm that afternoon.
“I decided that day with my surgical oncologist that we would remove the tumour because I wanted to know exactly what we were dealing with. I also met with an oncologist, radiologist and a geneticist that day.
“Surgery happened one week after my initial appointment. Everything happens so fast, but surgery helped me get a clearer picture of the monster we were dealing with, I had a grade 3 tumour, and lymph node involvement.”
Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 50, but younger women can also get it. About one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their life. If it is detected early, there is a good chance of recovery.
While most lumps are cancer-free, it is always important to have them checked with your GP. Other potential symptoms include; a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts, discharge from either of your nipples, a lump or swelling in either of your armpits, dimpling on the skin of your breasts, a rash on or around your nipple, a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast.
Tatiana felt in control when she had her boyfriend shave her head and now says that she wants to help others take control of their fate.
“I shaved my head after my second round of chemo; I was told that your hair starts to fall out after the second round and like clockwork, I woke up one morning and my hair was falling out,” she said.
“I cried about it and then we decided to shave my head. It was more traumatising to have my hair falling out then it was to shave it all off. It was one of the most empowering moments of my life.
“I’m now adjusting to the new normal, and so happy to be through chemo and my first surgery. I have embraced my journey and feel so much more comfortable sharing.
“I still have a long road ahead with radiation and several more surgeries. A huge weight has been lifted because I did have a complete response to chemotherapy.
“I haven’t been cleared of cancer yet, not completely. My surgery in March 2019, showed that I did not have any remaining cancer cells, but I’m still considered active treatment and not disease free.
“Scars and a fuzzy head are my new normal and I accept that. I love that I found grace and strength in this journey and know it will define the rest of my life.
“I didn’t know what to expect throughout every hurdle in this journey. Some things are harder than I expect, others easier.
“It’s scary knowing you have had a disease so young in your life and there is so little data on women my age with survival rates, etc so there are a lot of question marks out there.
“Going on social media with my journey made it feel less isolating. When I was first diagnosed, I was traumatised by all the negativity that the internet was throwing at me.
“I joke because I actually googled ‘positive chemotherapy stories’ one day out of desperation. I wanted to share a little light and positivity and hope to other women.
“I have loved connecting with people and showing them that it’s not as scary as the ‘Hollywood’ version of cancer is and I’ve loved rocking the bald look, I tell women to be proud, it’s one way to show the world you are a warrior.
“I make a more conscious effort to do the things that make me happy and spend time with those that make me happiest because cancer puts everything in to perspective.
“Being open and honest has helped; sometimes you have to tell your family, friends, significant other that you can’t do something, or you aren’t feeling well, or you need a minute.
“During cancer treatment I think patients need to remind themselves (as bad as it sounds) to be selfish because all your energy needs to be going towards getting well.
“I couldn’t have done this without my boyfriend Erik, and without my family and friends, they have been there every step of the way.
“Erik has never missed a doctor’s appointment and was so good at keeping me focused and positive. My parents and brother have also been so strong.
“I can only imagine how it feels to have a loved one diagnosed with cancer, but they never hesitate to support me with every decision. I also am so grateful to my oncology team.
“It seems so hard and maybe even impossible, but you will get through it and I think you will find strength and purpose that you may not have known you had.
“I am moving to South Carolina, as my boyfriend and I have bought a house while I was going through chemo. I am excited to start my postgraduate course, start my new job and close this cancer chapter.
“I would very much still like to speak out about breast cancer and help others dealing with a new diagnosis.”