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Breast Cancer Health Center

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I'm Too Young to Get Breast Cancer!

At 31, she learned she'd inherited the "family disease"—and then Tomomi Arikawa found an amazing way to fight it

The results of Tomomi's mastectomy continued...

The second surgery went smoothly, and six weeks later, the egg-harvesting cycle yielded 29 eggs to be frozen. Tomomi, who'd taken a leave from her job for the surgery, returned to work in early December. But there were more challenges ahead, including a rough four months of chemotherapy. Sometimes, as she lay on the bathroom floor, overcome with nausea, her sister sat outside in the hallway to be close. The immune-boosting injections Tomomi received caused bone and muscle pain so intense she couldn't stand to be touched, even accidentally. "I thought about how hard it was for my family to watch me," says Tomomi. "They felt helpless."

It was painful, Miyuki remembers. She also worried that the treatment was taking away her sister's optimism. "Tomomi had always been a positive person, and she stayed that way throughout the surgeries. But during the chemo, I was scared that the experience would somehow change her outlook and personality."

Finally, in late March, all the chemotherapy treatments were done. Tomomi could see the relief on her mother's face: "The death glare was gone." But Keiko knew from her own experience that the next stage — living as a cancer survivor — might be difficult for her energetic, proactive daughter. "The doctors tell you, 'Your cancer is gone; you are finished.' For the woman, though, it is not finished," she says.

Tomomi agrees that she's impatient to get back to "normal," to stop "overthinking things like dating" and what she should tell guys. Will they understand the consequences? she wonders. "Mostly, I want to be able to think about my future without focusing on cancer," Tomomi says.

"That is very common," her mother begins, mentioning comments she's heard from members of the Japanese-speaking breast cancer support group she runs. Tomomi interrupts, laughing: "OK, Mom, you don't have to defend me." Her mother smiles. Though they might be opposites in personality, it's obvious that a special bond unites them.

Something else had changed in Tomomi. As she began to reflect on her cancer experience, the idea of children — whether from her frozen eggs or by adoption — began to grow on her, overshadowing her concerns about passing on a breast cancer legacy. "So many people — my family and friends, even people I hadn't known before — have helped me through this," says Tomomi. "It's shown me that if someday I can give life in some way, and if that person experiences the same love and happiness I've been embraced with, she will be very lucky."

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