Written by Janna Crown
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my last term of law school. I had moved to Calgary for law school and my family was over 900 kms away. Initially, my doctor wasn’t too concerned - I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, and I was under 40. She opted for a mammogram to err on the side of caution. I am so grateful she did. I was diagnosed with stage two, ER/PR+ breast cancer. Eventually, I would be told I also had Paget’s, LCIS and DCIS throughout my left breast.
My dad had passed away from gastric cancer four years earlier, and I suddenly found myself in the awful position of having to call my mom in Vancouver to break the news that I had been diagnosed with cancer. She flew out for my first appointment with the surgeon in Calgary. That day, my surgeon told me to drop out of law school, that I needed to be off work “indefinitely” and that I would never have biological children – she even suggested I get my affairs in order. She also told me what I was going to hear at every appointment for the next year: “you’re really young…”
The only people I knew of who had breast cancer were older – my grandmother, my mom’s aunt, my friend’s grandparents. No one under 40. Through friends, I met another young breastie and we’ve become good friends over the past few years. She’s helped connect me to a broader community of young women navigating breast cancer, and the realities that a diagnosis at a younger age brings. This community has been so helpful to me over the past few years and I am so grateful for them.
When I got my diagnosis, I was shocked and scared. I’ve seen how quickly a cancer diagnosis can progress – my dad died five weeks after his diagnosis. I knew I couldn’t control cancer, but I didn’t want to stop living and enjoying life regardless of the curveballs my diagnosis was going to throw my way. I didn’t drop out of law school. I decided to move back to Vancouver so that I could be close to the support of my friends and family while going through surgeries and treatment. I finished law school remotely while going to countless doctor’s appointments.
My case wasn’t straightforward and was referred to breast conference more than once. In my first surgery, my surgeon removed the tumour, but the margins weren’t clear enough and the tumour had spread into my nerves. The location of my tumour meant I wasn’t a good candidate for radiation and my doctors recommended a mastectomy. When the pathology from my mastectomy came back, it showed 3 additional types of breast cancer and at least 5 additional tumours. And it meant I needed to have another surgery.
Over the next two years, I had six surgeries, failed treatments and experienced what seemed like endless complications. I’ve been really lucky to have the support and care of my family and friends, my treatment team, my work and school colleagues and my broader cancer community. It takes a village. I have more life to live and I know that’s an opportunity not everyone with a cancer diagnosis gets. I’m not the same person I was before my diagnosis, but I’m finding a way to enjoy every day, and live a life that I love. I feel truly lucky.
What makes me feel gorgeous? Red lipstick. It might sound superficial, but it makes me feel vibrant and alive even when I’m feeling sick.
Janna was honoured to be selected as this year's Run For the Cure Survivor Speaker. To hear her inspirational speech, please click here.