At 29, Stephanie Burke was not thinking about breast cancer. It was 2003, and she was the mother of two preschoolers and living with her military husband in Alaska. But she found a lump, and everything changed.
“I did a self-breast exam,” she said.
She found a lump, and when she raised her arm, there was a shooting pain with it. She called her mother to ask her about it, and after further talk, she had it checked out.
“I was shocked.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, 11 percent of all new breast cancer cases are in women under the age of 45.
After her lumpectomy, she had chemotherapy and then took medication for several years.
Burke said the cancer was a wake-up call for her to make needed changes in her life. Before her diagnosis, she was overweight. She’s changed her eating habits and is more active.
“We try to eat more healthy. We eat a lot more fruits and vegetables,” she said. “We eat a lot of chicken and little red meat.”
She received initial treatment in Alaska, but her husband was later transferred to Fort Benning, Ga., where there were more resources available for her. While in Alaska, emotional support was also limited. She turned to the internet, where she found the Young Survival Coalition’s website, youngsurvival.org.
She said she has received tremendous care from Army doctors over the years, and despite the complaints she has heard from others about military health care, she’s “beyond happy” with them.
“I always speak up in defense of Army medicine. I couldn’t have received better care anywhere else,” she said.
While cancer is feared by most people, Burke said it doesn’t have to be the end. In her case, it was a beginning.
“I am a completely different person than I was prior to breast cancer. In some ways, as odd as this may sound, it was one of the best things that happened to me. Before cancer, I never took the greatest care of myself, had low self-esteem and confidence. Now I am a force to be reckoned with, as I know no matter what comes my way, I can handle it. Breast cancer made me a fighter not just against the disease itself, but a fighter in life to strive for the best things and to appreciate each and every day,” she said.