Mia found a lump one morning on her breast when she got out of the shower. She stared at herself in the mirror. How could this be when the reflection staring back at her was only 25 years old. She stood there silently wondering, could this really mean breast cancer?
Standing in her bathroom, she immediately thought of her family tree. Mia's grandmother, on her mom's side had breast cancer, but neither her mom nor any of her mom's three sisters had breast cancer.
"I didn't know if breast cancer skipped a generation or not," says Mia. "But I just had a feeling that it wasn't good."
She first sought care at a different area hospital, where she got an ultrasound, which came back negative for breast cancer. But the nagging feeling inside of her, to find out more, would not subside. After the ultrasound, she asked for a mammogram and the staff dismissed this idea because she was too young.
That was not good enough for Mia. She ended up seeking treatment elsewhere and was able to finally get her mammogram, and a biopsy confirmed what the pit of her stomach already knew: she did indeed have breast cancer.
"I just told myself the reality is that I have breast cancer," says Mia. "I was so young and still had so much to do – in fact, I felt like I hadn't had the chance to do anything. I wasn't married, I didn't have kids. I figured I had time to cry later, but, in that moment, I needed to figure out what I had to do right then?"
At the ripe old age of 25, she made the decision to have a total mastectomy on the right side, instead of getting a lumpectomy. Mia had to make the hard choice, but she felt that since her situation was so uncommon it was best to just remove her entire breast. Two weeks later she had total reconstructive surgery. While she was recovering from her surgery, she found out about the Women Guiding Women Mentor Program, known at the time as the Breast Friends Program, at the MemorialCare Breast Center at Long Beach Memorial.
And in the strength that she found inside of herself – this new found strength that even surprised Mia – is where she would later discover her life's calling.
Mia ended up becoming a mentee (the youngest one in the program) and was paired up with a mentor, Martina, from the Women Guiding Women Mentor Program. This changed everything for Mia.
"When you are dealing with cancer, you are trying to process so much," says Mia. "Not only are you trying to process the fact that you have cancer, but you're learning a whole new medical vocabulary, trying to keep the different physicians and treatments straight. And to have someone who has gone through the process, to talk to, who's been there and walked in your shoes is amazing. My family was so supportive and loving, but they didn't really know or understand what I was going through like Martina did. It was like Martina broke in my running shoes for me, before I was about to compete in a marathon."
As soon as Mia could apply to be a mentor, one year out of treatment, she did. She took the four month training class where she met with oncologists and nurses, did role play and learned proper etiquette on how to talk to someone who is recently diagnosed with cancer.
It just so happened that Mia's very first mentee also happened to be diagnosed in her 20's as well. Mia carefully guided and supported her mentee through her diagnosis and they became fast friends. They went to lunch together every Friday, Mia attended her doctor's appointment, went to her mentee's family functions and even taught her the value of throwing a "survivor dinner" for her friends and family on the anniversary of her diagnosis. They have become much more than mentor and mentees to each other, they have become extended family.
"I feel like everything happens for a reason," says Mia. "My story was meant to go on, so I want to do as much as I can to help others. Whether it's sharing different treatment options, just being the shoulder to cry on or sharing my strength with a smile, I want to help."
On the Path to Being Cancer Free
Surviving cancer has a high price. Mia has been on tamoxifen for nearly five years – leaving her with post menopausal side effects. But she's happy knowing that on Feb. 5 she'll celebrate her 5 year anniversary of being cancer free, and will then be truly dubbed a "survivor" according to cancer survival rate data.
"This cancer diagnosis has made me a better person," says Mia. "It gave me clear direction on who I want to be as a person and what I want to do as a profession. It sounds cliché, but I learned that life is too short to sweat the small stuff. You need to be happy and it feels so good to give back and help others."
Mia has plans to become a radiology technologist. Just like the radiology technologists, who changed her life, just by being kind and caring every time Mia saw her for another appointment. One thing is for certain, the survivor dinner that Mia will undoubtedly throw for herself on Nov. 3 should have a minimum of five courses.