Emily Bailey was not concerned about breast cancer.
At 36, she was still years away from the suggested age when doctors recommend women begin receiving regular mammograms.
“Most women, if you don’t have a family history, you don’t get a mammogram until you’re 40 or older,” Bailey said.
With no family history of cancer behind her, she was in the prime of life, having bought a new home with her husband and looking to fix it up for the years ahead.
And then she found a lump.
“If it happened to me, it can happen to anybody,” Bailey said. “You have to be vigilant.”
That’s the hard-earned lesson Bailey seeks to share with others, especially young women like her hit by cancer far too early, with her support group, the Young Survivor Coalition, born in part from her own struggle with breast cancer.
Bailey hardly had breast cancer on her mind when she first found the lump in her breast. She was not conducting a self-exam, simply pulling on a piece of clothing when she felt the hard spot, and even then, she didn’t think of the result others might have.
“I just happened to find a lump,” Bailey said. “At first, I ignored it. I just forgot about it for a while.”
When, a week or so later, she happened to feel it again, however, suddenly she said she knew.
“My gut told me when I felt it again it was cancer,” Bailey said.
As soon as she could visit the doctor, they diagnosed her with breast cancer, fulfilling her darkest prediction. It was October of 2019, and she was merely 36.
“It almost came as a relief, just because I finally knew,” Bailey said. “But it was overwhelming. All I could think was, now what?”
“What” included surgery, which removed the lump, but much more.
Due to a variety of factors, doctors determined the cancer was likely to return without further treatment, so Bailey went through both radiation and chemotherapy.
“We were hoping chemo wasn’t in the cards, but it was,” Bailey said. “I did everything.”
It was a hard time for Bailey, who felt her entire life had been interrupted in its prime.
“I’d tell people I had breast cancer and they’d respond, ‘Oh, my grandma had breast cancer,’” Bailey said. “All I could think was, well, I’m not your grandma.”
Ultimately, she described it was missing time itself.
“I’m missing a year,” Bailey said. “I barely remember Christmas. It’s just gone.”
Even now, with her cancer in remission, Bailey’s life has hardly returned to normal. Due to the nature of her cancer, she continues to receive treatment to try and prevent its recurrence.
“I’ll be in treatment for the next 10 years,” Bailey said. “They have to suppress the hormones that help it grow because it would come back otherwise.”
Bailey hasn’t let the ordeal defeat her, though. Instead, with the help of a fellow young cancer survivor, Margaret McDonald, she’s co-founded the Young Survivor Coalition to serve as a bulwark for other women who face the disease far too young.
“This group is for young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer,” Bailey said. “We present a different side of circumstances. Within the group, there’s a feeling of friendship and of understand what each of us is going through.”
The group is also dedicated to emphasizing the need for further cancer research and pushes for businesses and others to donate to breast cancer causes rather than simply hang a pink ribbon up and call it a day.
“Breast cancer is becoming more prevalent and that is not acceptable in 2020,” Bailey said. “We want to support research. It’s about more than pink.”
The Coalition is small, with less than a dozen members at present; Bailey said they launched the group right when COVID-19 shut everything down, making it perhaps the worst time to launch a public support group dedicated to meeting face to face. But they continue to meet and support one another online through their Facebook page and Bailey wants to be there for other women who confront the same ordeal she did.
“We are facing this together,” Bailey said.