Niya’s Story

“It starts by knowing all of your options and asking your oncologist and your surgeon questions regarding your options so you can decide what the best one is for you. Everybody is different. Definitely follow your intuition.”

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When Niya was diagnosed with Stage IIb breast cancer at just 31 years old, her situation was complicated by its inextricable relationship with another human being.

“I was actually twelve weeks pregnant at the time, so that affected what I could do. I wanted to do a double mastectomy, but I could only have a single mastectomy because of the time I would have to spend under anesthesia,” she explained.

Niya was among the one in 3,000 individuals diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy each year. As a result, every decision she made required her and her medical team to consider not just her health but also the health of her baby. She underwent a single mastectomy with an aesthetic flat closure on that side.

Niya’s plan was to move on to genetic testing after surgery. Unfortunately, she met another, unexpected challenge. Pathology revealed 11 cancerous lymph nodes. Her plan had to change.

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“I completed four rounds of chemotherapy while I was pregnant.”

Niya’s chemotherapy treatments were spaced out every three weeks to ensure her white blood cell count remained safe for a pregnant person. She took a six week break to deliver her baby and immediately resumed chemotherapy. As treatment wore on, Niya struggled with her white blood cell count and neuropathy. In the meantime, her team urged her to consider adding radiation therapy to her treatment plan.

“I was strongly against radiation, because I don’t do well with change and my initial treatment plan did not include radiation,” she said.

Niya’s genetic testing presented yet another curveball that ultimately persuaded her to move forward with radiation treatment.

“Although breast cancer is prevalent in my family, I do not carry any gene mutations.”

Just over a year after her initial diagnosis, Niya completed her breast cancer treatment in December, 2020. It was then that she grappled with the realities of her flat closure. Between her pregnancy and radiation therapy, flat closure was her only option. Still she said that even if she had other options, she feels she would likely have landed in the same place.

“It starts by knowing all of your options and asking your oncologist and your surgeon questions regarding your options so you can decide what the best one is for you. Everybody is different. Definitely follow your intuition.”

While her intuition told her she may have chosen a flat closure under other circumstances, Niya owned her initial struggles with her post-mastectomy body. She explained that loving herself was a conscious process. She shifted her mindset through small acts of self-kindness.

“I actually love my body now more than I did before I had cancer. I really did not like it after surgery. The first time I went to look at myself in the mirror, I just remember crying. But I talked to my best friend, and I remember saying that looking at myself makes me want to throw up, and he said, ‘what would you say to your daughter?’ and I said ‘I would tell her to say one nice thing to herself,’ and so that’s what I started doing.”