By Emma Plant
|Andrea Popkes happy in Australia; a visit to celebrate her journey|
There are a plethora of breast cancer foundations actively doing good for sufferers everywhere. Many of the initiatives raise awareness, provide funding, organise support and firmly seek to alleviate the symptoms breast cancer brings. Not only medical symptoms, but psychological, familial, emotional and practical.
All these foundations and organisations serve as integral puzzle pieces in the fight against breast cancer. However, as a consequence of frequent high exposure, as virtuous as intentions may be, desensitization occurs with the general public. It is almost as if marketing trumps compassion for instigating support.
That is until we are touched by an incident or case that is close to our hearts. The sheer proximity of having someone in your life affected invites all kinds of overwhelming emotions into your daily existence. The seriousness of this rampant cancer is widely understood. What isn’t comprehended, and often neglected, are the number of young people that are diagnosed.
Breast cancer is no ‘thief in the night’. Most diagnosed women will cite stories of being in denial. This is exactly what happened to 29-year-old American Andrea Popkes. In 2009 Andrea travelled to Australia in the pursuit of love. Shortly after arriving, she was cruelly chased by a series of unfortunate events.
“I came from my comfort zone in America in search of my husband. Nothing. Nothing at all turned out how I would have wanted it to," she says. "Instead I found myself going through an incredibly testing time."
Andrea was not diagnosed until she returned to America later that year. Although acutely aware that something was amiss in her body, she procrastinated seeking medical advice the entire time she was in Australia.
“I was having a tough enough time as it was. Yeah, I had a sneaking suspicion that the hard tissue in my breast was not meant to be there, but I didn’t want to know because it would be too hard. I had no family or anyone around. I kept thinking –‘I am so young'.”
On her return home she hastily went to the doctors. It was exactly what she already knew. Stage three breast cancer was polluting her body, and it had been for some time. With all the positivity she could muster, Andrea banked on getting better. The proceeding year would be a blur of grey hospital walls, intravenous tubes and inorganic beeping sounds. Andrea documented the entire process.
"For some reason, I found this strength in me that I didn’t know I had. Maybe it was because I was young and there was so, so much I had not experienced yet. I wanted to go through basic rites of passage; have kids, have a husband, do a job I wanted to do…blah, blah, blah, you know normal stuff."
Andrea says one of the most difficult aspects of the cancer was her age. Being young was a medical bonus, yet mentally it was isolating. The average breast cancer victim is a 53-year-old woman. Life stolen from any age is devastating, but Andrea felt she could not fully relate to older women.
“They are incredible; the strength they have. But, you know, they have gone through so many things in life already. They have families, they have had careers, their kids are gathering around them in support. I felt like I was going to miss out on all this. Like, ‘Hey, don’t you know how lucky you are to have gone through this at your age? At least you have done some living’.”
With a few exceptions, the media and breast cancer organisations appear to support the most common patient. Specific help and targeted therapy for younger people is not necessarily advertised. Andrea says the reason she documented her journey so explicitly was for younger diagnoses'. She re-tells a funnier story typical of her recovery.
“I remember my sister saying, ‘Andrea, at least you get new boobs. That’s pretty cool’. I replied ‘But I had my own boobs, and they were youthful, good boobs.' It’s not like a needed a nip tuck. I was/am only young.”
In remission now, Andrea tells her story with more distance and understanding. Her comprehension of what she travelled through has gifted her with an amazing sense of gratitude. Andrea still has youth on her side and is determined to make the very most of it. She is passionate about young cancer sufferers feeling connected and heard.
Emma @ Girl With a Satchel