A few months after giving birth, Haley Carrington discovered a lump in her right breast. She felt it near her armpit while she was nursing, and it was about the size of a marble.
The young mother initially thought it must have been a clogged milk duct, and her doctor didn’t seem overly concerned. But when that little lump wouldn’t go away, Carrington was referred to Thompson Comprehensive Breast Center for an ultrasound and then a biopsy.
The results were life-altering. At the age of 30, Carrington was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was really shocked,” Carrington says. Her thoughts immediately turned to her family, especially the tiny baby boy who still needed his mother so much.
“The first thing that came to my mind was ‘I’m not going to see him grow up. I’m going to miss these important dates in my kids’ lives.’”
Strength Meets Hope
Facing her diagnosis, Carrington embarked on a challenging journey. Breast cancer was a frightening adversary, but Carrington found strength in her medical team from the start.
“The doctors made me feel hopeful, and that this was treatable,” she says. “I think that’s the number-one thing I needed when I was diagnosed. Hope.”
Carrington had triple-negative breast cancer, meaning it didn’t have the most common receptors for various treatment options. Triple-negative cancers are generally more aggressive and are more likely to spread early in the disease process. For this reason, chemotherapy is generally recommended before surgery, and that was the case with Carrington. After phase one of chemotherapy at Thompson Cancer Survival Center, Carrington noticed the tumor shrinking. By phase two, it had disappeared completely.
However, Carrington’s commitment to her future and her family’s well-being prompted her to make a personal choice going one step further. She chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.
A Personal Choice
“I want to be able to see my kids grow up and I understand the chances of cancer coming back,” Carrington says. “Just for my peace of mind, I wanted to eliminate that chance.”
Her surgeon was Ana Wilson, DO, a surgical oncologist affiliated with Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. Dr. Wilson specializes in breast cancer, melanoma and other related cancers. She says bilateral mastectomy is not uncommon among young women, even in cases like Carrington’s where the tumor is small enough to be removed with a lumpectomy.
Dr. Wilson says, “She wanted to have a more aggressive surgery, not just to treat this breast cancer, but try to prevent future breast cancers because she has a long life left to live.”
Another reason young women choose mastectomies over lumpectomies may be that the procedure can now be performed in a way that preserves more of the breast’s appearance. A plastic surgeon worked alongside Dr. Wilson to begin the first phase of breast reconstruction immediately after the removal procedure.
“She had a bilateral, nipple-sparing mastectomy. We removed both breasts and preserved the skin of the breast and the nipple,” Dr. Wilson explains. She adds that no cancer was found in the lymph nodes during the surgery, so radiation was not necessary.
Sharing Her Story to Save Lives
Carrington’s courage and resilience have led her to a place of triumph. “I’m cancer-free,” she says proudly. Her story is not just about survival, it’s a testament to the power of hope, determination and women taking charge of their health at every age.
She is spreading the word that early detection lives. Carrington is also encouraging friends and family to keep up with self-breast exams and schedule mammograms as appropriate.
Her message to others, especially young women, is direct: “Take your health seriously, because cancer does not care how old or young you are.”
For more information about surgical services at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center visit FSRegional.com or call 865-331-1111.
Covenant Health contributed information and quotes for this story.