October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. While most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to take the necessary steps to help prevent it.
For women who think a lump will suddenly disappear, you are wrong. For women who say they never have had a mammogram — please make it a point to get that important test. For those who say, I’m too young to get breast cancer — don’t let age determine your role in detecting this deadly disease.
Cancer has no rhyme or reason — it doesn’t care how old or young you are; it doesn’t care the color of your skin; cancer doesn’t care if you are a man or woman — it has no boundaries and it can attack at any given moment.
Throughout the month of October, many will notice the “pink” ribbon displayed in many businesses — it is the most prominent symbol of breast cancer awareness; however, breast cancer is not just about pink ribbons — it’s courage, hope and faith.
It takes courage and strength to overcome hearing those devastating words that so many women are experiencing on a daily basis — “you have breast cancer.” It takes a family and oftentimes a community to come together to help fight the battle — but we’re all in it together and together there is hope that someday there will be a cure for all cancers in the world. And it takes faith in God, that He will lead you in the right path for He has a plan for everyone.
Hannah Hancock remembers hearing those devastating words at the age of 22 — “you have breast cancer.” While most young people at that age are still in college or just graduating and preparing for what their future may hold, Hannah is dealing with her battle against breast cancer.
At such a young age no one should be worrying about cancer or any other type of disease. However, cancer can strike at any moment.
Hannah is a Communications Assistant to Congressman Steve Stivers, and had just begun working with the Congressman. She told The Circleville Herald that she discovered the lump in her right breast while taking a shower.
“Coincidentally, I had an appointment with my gynecologist that week so I asked her to check it,” Hannah stated. “That led to an ultrasound, and two biopsies, which led to my diagnosis. Immediately, within the next week they took me off birth control as that had been feeding the hormone receptive cancer to grow faster. The specific type of cancer I have is extremely aggressive and grows quickly, so my team of doctors wanted to act fast.”
It was April of this year (2019) that Hannah was diagnosed with Stage I Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, triple positive. Looking back, Hannah said her mother also had breast cancer and is now a survivor of this devastating disease.
The same week as her diagnosis, she started fertility preservation, IVF, and had surgery to preserve her eggs so in the future she could have children. She was able to save 22 eggs, which she said was the most relieving feeling.
“I specifically remember during fertility treatment my best friend Katie and I were out and kept trying to make clear to people that I wasn’t pregnant; the fertility process towards the very end can bloat you to the point where you look pregnant. For a 22-year-old, it’s not very fun to have so many restrictions on what to eat, what to drink, or how to workout,” she stated.
“Even down to making sure to lie on my back when I slept during IVF, and now after my double mastectomy, is quite annoying and does test my mental health,” she added. “But I learned to get over the physical challenges after pretty much the first day. Personally, I believe what is in someone’s heart and the way they treat others surpasses their outward appearance.”
The following week she started her first of six rounds of chemotherapy (TCHP); 11 rounds of targeted therapy every three weeks, with a double mastectomy that was performed on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Hannah spent two nights in the George Washington Hospital to recover and is new recovering very well at home with family and friends helping her.
“I am taking my recovery seriously so that I am healthy to return back to work, hopefully by next Monday,” she said. “I am very excited to be able to go back to work after two weeks of rest. The doctors say my vitals and physical appearance of the breasts are as great as they could have hoped for.”
Hannah also shared some great news with the newspaper — the doctor told her that the pathology report shows the cancer did not spread and they were able to take it all out within margins.
“I am ecstatic,” Hannah remarked. Now, the next steps are 10 more continued hormonal infusions every three weeks to make sure to kill any remaining cancer cells the labs might have not picked up and reconstruction.
“These treatments definitely cause many physical changes,” Hannah commented to the newspaper. “Thankfully, I was able to do cold capping which saved most of the hair on my head. Otherwise, I definitely lost the rest of my hair on my body. And, the steroids I would have to take before and after treatments put five pounds on me, but that would go away after a few days.
“When I first found out, the first thought after I hung up the phone with the doctor who told me was — ‘Okay, this is real.’ It is time to use every fiber in my body to embrace the positives of life more than ever, and to gather up every bit of strength I have created so far both mentally and physically to embrace the many treatments and surgery I will have to undergo throughout this next year or so,” Hannah stated.
“After I took a couple minutes to myself I immediately called my best friends who poured me with so much hope, positivity, and support,” she added. “This environment of support and an idea of ‘let’s just live life to its absolute fullest until I get this cancer out of me from my friends, family, and work family is really what has kept me so grounded and hopeful.”
When Hannah starts feeling scared or sad, she is reminded by those who love her of all the positives in life, and why she continues to fight the battle to rid her body of the cancer.
“Since the moment I told my family, they showered me with love and support,” she said. “Any second I ever start to feel scared or sad, my immediate family and also my work family and friends remind me of the positives of life, and just why I am fighting so hard to get this cancer out of my body.”
For Hannah, the hardest part of her journey so far has been about what she’s missed out on.
“Social activities, when sick after procedures or infusions; working out with friends near procedures; and having to take time out of work to answer checkup phone calls from the doctors and what seems like infinite doctors appointments,” she continued. “It’s frustrating when I have to miss out on really exciting days or events at work, events with my friends, or even simple chores such as going for a swim due to treatments and appointments, but these are all extremely minor sacrifices I am willing to make in order to regain my full health.”
Through reaching out to many different cancer-related organizations to see what support she could access, American Cancer Society reached out to her, and Hannah spoke at two events they held in the Washington, D.C. area sharing her story with other breast cancer survivors. They had a walk, Making Strides of D.C., and within a matter of six days, her team was able to raise $4,000, and rose to number eight out of 297 teams of the whole event in terms of fundraising.
“All proceeds go back to research and support for ACS. Most importantly, my whole office from Team Stivers and more friends and their loved ones (who are also staff members from the Ohio delegation) came to the walk to support me. It was one of the best feelings knowing I had all the love and support of such great people that I look up to,” Hannah added.
“I truly attribute this miraculous result to the incredible support and prayers of my friends and family along the way! I continue to learn the power of positive energy, kind thoughts, and prayers.”
When it comes to advice, this 22-year-old Communications Assistant to Congressman Steve Stivers has plenty for those going through or who have gone through this process.
“To any woman, or man, reading this who has or who has been affected by any type of cancer I would encourage you to take a step back and really look at what is important to you,” she graciously commented. “For me, this process has shown me more positive parts of life than ever before. It gave me a new outlook on my day-to-day life, as well as the life I hope to have in the future.
“I am more passionate than ever about being protective over my own energy, surrounding myself with people that inspire me, work that really makes a difference in people’s lives, and in turn — putting great energy back into the world just as I hope others do.
“Another huge factor that has helped me is truly loving the work I do every day. Before my diagnosis, I was a couple months into serving as a Communications Assistant for Congressman Steve Stivers in Washington, D.C. From day one, they had welcomed me into their team, their family. But, from the day I shared the news, every person from the interns to Congressman Stivers, himself, each person immediately gave me endless strength, support, and positivity.
“I was at first worried that I would be treated differently, maybe I would be given less work or not given as many corrections. But it turned out quite the opposite. Team Stivers continued giving me great advice on my work, and pushed me to continue improving daily. They have taught me so much and have trusted me to maintain the role that I have dreamed of for years, and to contribute to their highly respected team.
“Reflecting now, every person at work has been a role model for me both professionally and as a friend and family member. I am forever grateful to be surrounded with hard-working, genius, smart, genuine, caring, and fun people every day.
“Honestly, I am sure there are many ways women of all ages handle this process. But despite the difficulties that have come with this experience, I truly could not have dreamed of a better, stronger team of people from work, from college, from every point of my life that have understood. Although I knew there would be days where I would be held back, I wanted to continue improving and contributing; and looking back, that is genuinely what has happened.
“Simply, have something to live for and have huge goals to strive towards. Be a little better each day. That is what you should focus on, and is what will drive you towards continued fulfillment and happiness. The doctors appointments and treatments will just turn into little chores you have to check off your to do list of the day and sooner, rather than later, they will be over with — nothing will be in your way of accomplishing whatever your biggest goals and desires are,” Hannah concluded.
Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. This type of cancer forms in the lining of a milk duct within your breasts. The ducts carry breast milk from the lobules, where it’s made, to the nipple. Ductal carcinoma can remain in the ducts as a noninvasive cancer (ductal carcinoma in situ) or it can break out of the ducts (invasive ductal carcinoma), such as in Hannah’s case.
Hannah is hoping to return to work next week.