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Breast Cancer in Younger Women: May 17, 2012

Meredith Cronin had it all. Beautiful home. Loving husband. Three children, including a baby girl.

“Two months after I finished nursing her I noticed I still had some of what I thought were clogged milk ducts, so I went to my GYN and he said let’s go ahead and do a mammogram.”

It put Meredith on a quite unexpected path. At 36, she expected to rule out breast cancer, not confirm it.

“I’ve had breast cancer in my family but it’s post-menopausal. No one has had it this young, no one else in my family,” says Cronin.

What started as the earliest and most treatable form of breast cancer, intraductal carcinoma, quickly spread.

“I did have two places where the tumor was starting to come out of the milk ducts so that brought me to stage one. When they did the mastectomy they found it in a lymph node so that’s when I went up to stage two,” says Cronin.

Cancer in young women is typically caught at later stages because no one is looking. Mammograms aren’t recommended under age 40, so it often comes down to women being diligent about changes in their body.

“Five percent of breast cancer happens in individuals under the age of 40. With Meredith she felt a mass after she finished breast feeding,” says Dr. Lea Blackwell, a breast surgical oncologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Based on her age and the extent of cancer, Meredith underwent an aggressive double mastectomy.

“This is something that if we waited a little bit longer that it potentially could have gotten worse in the interim of just observation,” says Dr. Blackwell.

Now finished with chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she hopes her story will be an example.

“Through this whole thing you realize how blessed you are. I always think ‘oh everything’s going to be fine, I’m sure it’s nothing’ and it was,” says Cronin.
Meredith is living proof that cancer is ageless.