Anna’s Story

“I think from the beginning even without knowing it, I’ve always been my own advocate. There’s not always a lot of flexibility, but usually there is some, even if you don’t think you have a lot of options.”

© Bianca Muñiz

When Anna found a lump during a breast self exam at just 25 years old, her doctor was not concerned. She had no family history of breast cancer and carried no risk-increasing gene mutations. However, Anna followed her instincts to an optional ultrasound. That decision ultimately saved her life.

“An ultrasound turned to a biopsy and then boom,” Anna said.

She was diagnosed with Stage 2, triple-positive breast cancer with two months left in her final semester of college. Anna had danced professionally after high school, delaying her undergraduate education. When she learned that her treatment plan would include chemotherapy, she advocated to have her surgery first to avoid another delay in her degree.

“I think from the beginning even without knowing it, I’ve always been my own advocate. There’s not always a lot of flexibility, but usually there is some, even if you don’t think you have a lot of options.”

picture of patient
© Bianca Muñiz

Anna chose to undergo bilateral mastectomies with expander-implant reconstruction, all while she finished her senior year of college. She lost one nipple during her mastectomies. Her team worked with her to schedule her chemotherapy after the semester was over. In the meantime, she completed her finals, graduated summa cum laude, and went on her graduation trip. On her return, Anna underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and an implant exchange procedure. She said the exchange offered unexpected relief.

“It was an immediate relief, which I didn’t realize. It was just uncomfortable with the expanders. I didn’t feel like myself. It’s not as comfortable as the final implants.”

Unfortunately, Anna’s story did not end there. In May of 2022, four and a half years after her initial diagnosis, she experienced a local recurrence in an area of scar tissue. She underwent radiation, a lumpectomy with an oncoplastic closure, and 20 weeks of targeted chemotherapy. She has since experienced some tightening in the radiated side of her breast reconstruction.

“It’s still that open ended question: am I done with surgery? Do I have more surgeries? I think that’s something that people don’t understand about breast reconstruction. It’s so possible to continue to need revisions and other things down the line.”

Anna had just taken up dancing for recreation when she was re-diagnosed. She initially thought her recurrence would put a permanent end to her relationship with dance but found that it revitalized that connection instead. She continued to go to class through treatment. Anna said that it helped her keep her spirits up.

“It’s really hard to get yourself to class after you’ve retired. There was a lot of fear around going back to class, but I really did miss it. Ballet was so helpful in getting my mind off of what was happening outside of the studio and getting back into my body. I started dancing at least a couple of times a week, and it was just so helpful for me.”

Anna’s therapeutic experience with dance inspired her to found Oncoballet, a specialized ballet class for anyone who is going through cancer treatment or recovery. She experimented with different types of classes to create a program designed to help people get out of their heads and into their bodies. Classes are meant to be accessible, healing-focused, freeing, and filled with joy.