Women diagnosed with breast cancer in their 20s tell stories to - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Women diagnosed with breast cancer in their 20s tell stories to raise awareness

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- With medical school on the horizon, the summer before was supposed to be the time of her life for Betsy Barefoot.

"Just doing whatever I wanted and going on vacations and having fun and not having to worry about anything, and then all of a sudden it was the complete opposite," said Barefoot.

Instead, in April 2016, Barefoot found a lump in her breast. "I was not doing regular breast exams. I just happened to feel it, and it just happened to be close to the skin," said Barefoot.

An ultrasound and biopsy confirmed the worst: breast cancer at just 24 years old. 

"I was healthy, exercised, ate right. No reason to suspect anything like that," Barefoot said.

More than one million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Most will be older than 40, making Barefoot's case very rare.

"Six percent of breast cancers are diagnosed in women under age 40," said Laila Agrawal, an oncologist with Norton Healthcare.

Shortly after her diagnosis, Barefoot had a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. Throughout it all friends and family were by her side. She connected with other breast cancer survivors, but most were her mom's age. 

"I did feel very isolated just because none of my friends could really relate. You really don't understand it, until you've gone through it yourself," said Barefoot.

A call from her doctor less than a year after her diagnosis made the fight a little less lonely.

"'I have another patient who is your age. She has no family history. She's diagnosed with breast cancer. Would you mind talking with her?'' said Barefoot describing the call.

Abby Shipley was just 25 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She too found a lump just months before her wedding. 

Shipley had no family history, no factors that put her at risk and no one her age to talk to.

"You're in two different stages of life so to be young and dealing with it and trying to live the rest of your life is a lot different as a young person," said Shipley.

The two now text regularly and meet for coffee, a built in support system for those fighting the unexpected at such a  young age.

"I will always say does this hurt? Like how much pain should I be expecting? What is recovery and she always knew everything," said Shipley.

Current recommendations for annual mammogram screenings start at age 40, which means for women Barefoot and Shipley's age, the lack of awareness and screenings can lead to delayed diagnosis.

"While it's less common in young women, breast cancer can be more aggressive, (there can be) subtypes or (it can) be diagnosed at a more advanced stage," said Dr. Agrawal.

The two women are now on the path to recovery. Barefoot is back in medical school and Shipley got married just a few weeks ago. They now want their stories to act as a wake up call for young women.

"If I hadn't felt it and it had been another six months, things could have turned out a lot differently," said Barefoot.

"If you're suspicious of anything just check it out. It doesn't hurt to get a second opinion," said Shipley.

Both women will continue treatment for the next five years in the form of hormone therapy.

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