Young breast cancer survivor urges women to advocate for their health
While breast cancer in young women is rare, it happens. And it appears to be on the rise. The National Cancer Institute reports cases of younger women with advanced breast cancer have increased about 2 percent each year since the mid-1970s and show no signs of slowing down.
Betsy Barefoot, 25, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. After ﬁnding a lump, things moved quickly for her, from an ultrasound to biopsy, then double mastectomy and chemotherapy.
“I was not doing regular self-exams; I just randomly felt the lump,” Barefoot said. “I had no family history and I was 24, so I didn’t worry too much about it.”
It was at her mother’s urging that she got the lump checked out.
Because current recommendations for annual mammogram screenings start at age 40, young women need to be aware that breast cancer can still happen to them. Self-checks and annual exams by an OB/GYN are the only ways these cancers can be found.
Undoubtedly, thanks to her age and overall good health, Barefoot’s recovery from surgery was smooth. She then endured the painful process of freezing her eggs in case chemotherapy damaged her ovaries. She is now on an estrogen-suppressing medication, which also could affect her ability to have children later on.
Barefoot also chose to use a scalp-cooling cap during chemotherapy to help keep her from losing her hair. Despite a somewhat excruciating seven-hour process of tolerating sub-zero temperatures on her head, the cap was a great success.
“I started medical school at the same time I was going through chemo,” Barefoot said. “It was important to me to not look like I was going through that. I didn’t want to look any different than any other student.”
While she’s been through much more than any young woman should have to face, she’s learned some important lessons.
“You really have to advocate for yourself — for your health, for answers, for support,” Barefoot said. “Breast self-checks were not on my mind. Women should know that even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you should still do checks to know what’s normal.”
Recognizing she was in survival mode ﬁrst, taking care of her physical body, then later being hit with the mental and emotional toll of it all, Barefoot has advice for others facing cancer:
“From the beginning, before you think you’re going to need it, see a behavioral oncologist,” she said. “Even if you have a strong support system, it can be overwhelming for you and for them. It’s good to have an outside third party to help you cope.”
Norton and Churchill Downs team up to beat cancer
Betsy Barefoot was this year’s Derby Divas honoree. Presented by Churchill Downs, the annual fundraising event is held each April as a kickoff to Derby season. While the event is a fun girls’ night out, its goal is to raise funds to pay for mammograms for women who cannot afford them and to ensure every woman has access to breast care.
The charitable partnership with Churchill Downs, announced in February, will be highlighted later this week with the Kentucky Oaks Day Pink Outcelebration on May 5 to raise funds and drive national breast and ovarian health awareness. As part of this year’s Pink Out, Churchill Downs will donate $50,000 toward the Breast Health Program at Norton Cancer Institute. These funds will help cover the costs for at least 500 DigniCap scalp cooling treatments for local breast cancer patients. DigniCap is an advanced, FDA-approved technology that helps prevent significant hair loss associated with chemotherapy treatment. Norton Cancer Institute is the first breast cancer care provider in Kentucky and the only health system within a five-state region to offer patients the innovative DigniCap scalp cooling system.