Emily Piercell was just 27 when she discovered a lump in her breast. Doctors said she was too young to get cancer - until she convinced them to do a biopsy that revealed a stage three tumor
Doctors refused to do a biopsy on a lump that Emily Piercell found in her breast when she was just 27.
But when the mass tripled in size, she demanded a biopsy which revealed stage three cancer, inspiring her to trail blaze a program to help young women advocate for themselves - and to teach doctors to listen.
Programs coordinator at Rethink Breast Cancer, Emily Piercell - now 31 - from Ontario, Canada, was an aspiring lawyer before cancer turned her world upside down.
Breast cancer is relatively rare in young people, but it happens - to 70,000 men and women between 15 and 39 each year in the US.
Like Emily, 80 percent of young breast cancer patients find their own tumors, but are often dismissed by doctors who do only preliminary tests of their masses but, now, Emily has dedicated her professional life to making sure doctors listen to patients.
It was May 2015 when Emily noticed a lump in her breast and went to her doctor to get checked out.
Emily's doctor wasn't concerned by the lump because she had no family history of breast cancer and she was only 27 at the time.
Emily was sent for an ultrasound and doctors concluded that the lump was dense tissue and nothing of concern, so they didn't do a biopsy.
Over the next three months, Emily's lump tripled in size and grew to 10 centimeters in both length and width.
Because her cancer was fairly advanced by the time it was diagnosed, Emily had to have chemo, surgery and radiation therapies that 'ruined her ski,' she said
Emily returned to her doctor who sent her for another ultrasound which, again, showed the lump as just dense tissue.
But this time, Emily pushed for a biopsy to be done, despite the radiologist's reluctance.
The biopsy revealed that Emily's doctors were wrong. She had triple positive stage three breast cancer.
Emily says she regularly checked her breasts for lumps or abnormalities, the best at-home screening women can do for breast cancer.
At first, even she thought there might be a simpler explanation for what she felt.
'I had recently changed birth control and within one cycle my hands and feet were swollen, and I noticed a large lump in my right breast,' Emily says.
'I went to my family doctor who wasn't concerned but she sent me for a biopsy and ultrasound anyway. The ultrasound looked like the lump was normal dense tissue, so the radiologist didn't do a biopsy, but he sent me for a mammogram which came back negative.'
Emily and her husband, Jose (pictured), didn't expect to have to face a life-threatening disease together so early in their lives together. During treatment, Emily lost her hair, so she and Jose (left) had matching buzz cuts for a while
In fairness to her doctors, it isn't just that phyisicians are in the habit of turning away young women who might have breast cancer - there currently are no reliable screening tools for breast cancer in people under 40.
Young women tend to have denser breast tissue than older women. Dense breast tissue is both a risk factor for breast cancer and an impediment to testing.
While a small lump or nodule might be nothing to be concerned about, a growing mass certainly is.
'Over the next three months, my lump tripled in size and took up my entire breast. It was 10 by 10 centimeters by this point,' Emily says.
Again, Emily's mass just looked like dense tissue on the ultrasound.
'Fortunately, this time, I advocated for myself and insisted on a biopsy because I knew it wasn't normal. The biopsy came back showing I had breast cancer.'