The Doctors Told Me I Was Too Young for Cancer

05/01/2019 By Emily Piercell

I was 27 and had just moved to Toronto to pursue my legal career and finally live with my husband. We were married the year before and living long distances while I was in law school. On August 26, 2015, I had to put my career on hold to endure a year of treatments for triple positive, stage three breast cancer. I had five months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, 25 radiation treatments, a year of Herceptin treatments, three other surgeries to fix my reconstruction, and am currently doing hormone therapy for the next seven years.

My story is not unique. I hear the same story from so many other young women who have been diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told me I was too young for cancer and since I don’t have any history of breast cancer in my family the tumor in my breast must just be dense tissue. It took several months to get my breast cancer diagnosis after I had to advocate for myself and insist on a biopsy. At the time of my diagnosis, we knew it was already in my lymph nodes but luckily it hadn’t traveled beyond that.

Exactly one month after my last radiation treatment, I started articling at a law firm. The articling hiring process occurs the year before you actually start working, so before I was diagnosed I had this position lined up. This made my diagnosis easier to swallow because if there was a good time to get cancer, it was then. I had the whole year to focus on my health and getting better. My doctors had advised me against starting a full-time stressful career so soon but I was determined to be called to the Bar the following summer. It was tough to deal with incredible fatigue, chemo brain, and my many doctor appointments while working in a new profession but every week my brain fog would clear a little more and my stamina would improve. Mostly, it felt great to be using the skills I had worked so hard to develop over the last few years and to not be “just the sick patient” anymore.

A year later, I was called to the Bar, finally becoming a lawyer. Unfortunately, the firm I was working at was unable to hire any students that year, so I was back to the job search, but in the meantime, I secured a contract position at Rethink Breast Cancer (an AYA organization supporting young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer), which has since turned into a full-time role. Pre-cancer, I chose a highly stressful and demanding profession because I thought it would be a stable industry that I could excel at. Post-cancer, this lifestyle is not realistic for me. Exercising, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep are so important to my mental and physical health, including helping with the lasting symptoms of cancer treatments and hormone therapy.

Since getting the all-clear to resume regular activities from my doctors in July 2017, I have started a high-intensity exercise program, have run two half marathons and training for my third, coached running clinics at the Running Room, and started working at Pink Pearl Canada (an AYA organization supporting women with any type of cancer). My work with both organizations has helped me find purpose in my awful diagnosis. If I can help newly diagnosed women feel less alone or encourage someone to advocate for themselves, I know I’m doing something important.

To follow along with my life after a breast cancer diagnosis, please follow me @emilypiercell or read more of my personal blogs.

GRYT is advocating for myself even when doctors told me I was too young for breast cancer.

GRYT is seeing the bright side even throughout the darkest days.

GRYT is realizing I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Editor’s Note: As of 3/10/2022, Emily provided us with the following:

Emily was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at 27 years old, the summer after finishing law school. After a year of active treatment, multiple surgeries, Articling, and being called to the Bar, she has shifted her career to supporting and advocating for AYAs diagnosed with cancer. For the past 5 years, Emily has worked at Canadian charities supporting young women with cancer through programs, education, and content. Currently, Emily works for Wildfire Magazine, a breast cancer magazine started by an AYA breast cancer survivor and the Patient as Teacher Program, integrating humanistic and patient-centered approaches into undergraduate surgical education. Emily is passionate about AYA cancer issues and ensuring no one faces cancer alone. You can find Emily on Instagram at @emilypiercell.

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