Women younger than 30 have a less-than-1 percent chance of developing breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. But Whitney Ladd of King, North Carolina, suspected she was one of the unlucky ones when, in 2012, she got out of the shower and noticed her left breast was swollen, sore and hot to the touch. She was just 26 years old.
“I knew it was coming,” said Ladd, now 29. “I prayed about it and just knew they were going to tell me it was cancer.”
Breast cancer at 26
Ladd went to her OB-GYN for her annual exam and requested a breast examination. Due to Ladd’s age, her OB-GYN suggested an ultrasound instead of a mammogram. Once Ladd had an ultrasound, she was immediately sent for a mammogram and then a biopsy. A few days later, her fears were confirmed. She was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Since Ladd was so young, her doctors suggested genetic testing to see if she had a higher likelihood of developing breast cancer. Her maternal grandmother had breast cancer, so there was family history, but Ladd did not test positive for mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
Ladd’s cancer was advanced enough that it had spread to a lymph node. She completed eight rounds of chemotherapy at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and then had a double mastectomy at Novant Health Medical Park Hospital.
She worked closely with Forsyth Medical Center oncologist Dr. Nick Chrysson. “He was very supportive and positive, but also very straightforward,” Ladd said. “He was up-front about my diagnosis, but also made me feel like I could beat it.”
Ladd, said Dr. Chrysson, “fell into the tiny minority of women diagnosed so young. Unfortunately, breast cancer in young women is frequently more aggressive and her treatment was similarly aggressive. She handled it well and approached it like a real warrior.”
Ladd sums up her approach simply. “Not surviving,” she said, “was not an option.”
More than surviving
Ladd is doing more than just surviving today. She is now the event coordinator for the Triad Pink Heals, a local chapter of a national organization, Pink Heals, which raises awareness of women’s diseases. Pink Heals volunteers drive pink fire trucks, ambulances and police cars through the community to raise funds and awareness about cancer and other diseases.
Ladd even has a pink police car named after her. She rode in the car on the way to her double mastectomy.
“People really rallied around me,” Ladd said. “From fundraisers like the Pink Heals, as well as friends and family, I didn’t have any medical bills to pay.”
After working with a team of physicians for her treatment plan, Ladd has been without cancer for almost two years.
Although her case was rare, it shows breast cancer doesn’t affect only those who are over age 40.
“Since there’s an age gap, it’s even more important to know your body and know when it changes,” Ladd said. “After my experience, I really understand the importance of self-checks.”