CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. But Jelisa Stubbs of Charlotte never imagined she would be one of them at 30 years old.
It’s part of a troubling trend, experts say. More young women being diagnosed in their 20s and 30s. Stubbs' bright eyes and effortless smile is so infectious that you almost don't realize she's been battling breast cancer for the past six months. Almost.
“I’m 30 - you know, you’re 30 you see like the whole runway, the sky’s the limit,” she said. “Then you hear this, it’s like coming to a halt and hitting a brick wall.”
A brick wall that forced the millennial to re-evaluate everything after a trip to the emergency room for an upset stomach six months ago led to a stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis.
“Maybe it’s the whole millennial thing or maybe it’s just being 30 - you feel invincible,” she said. “They thought I had appendicitis. So they were going through the scan and when they took the scan they were like, you don’t have appendicitis, it’s something else but we see something in your breast that you should go get checked out."
Days later, Jelisa got the shock of her life.
“They take me into this like room that’s like a library and I’m like yep, I got cancer. There’s no reason they’re bringing me into this room with this couch and this chair to tell me I don’t have cancer!,” she said.
A total of 20 grueling weeks of chemotherapy followed in order to shrink the tumor in breast. It was 10 centimeters in size - roughly the size of an iPhone - before she had a bilateral mastectomy on Sept. 11, her 31st birthday.
Jelisa has chosen not to have reconstructive surgery.
“I’ve never felt like my breasts define me,” she said. “And losing them to me - I didn’t lose any sleep over it. Now I know other women will feel differently and it’s all about their personal feel."
So she sought the expertise of Dr. Theo Nyame with Charlotte Plastic Surgery to help ensuring scarring would be minimal.
“I wanted him involved so that my scars wouldn’t be so jarring. I mean seeing them for the first time [was jarring] but I’m excited to see how they end up,” Stubbs said.
Now only one hurdle remains: six weeks of radiation.
“I can see the light and it’s bright, man,” she said excitedly.
Through it all there has been one constant - her commitment to staying positive.
“I’m no saint, I had bad days,” Stubbs admitted. “But one thing I never allowed myself to do is the whole ‘woe is me why me’ thing. Because to say ‘why me’ meant it needed to be something else. How could I say that it needed to be someone else?”
It's why she is a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
“There has to be a reason behind it,” she said. “Maybe it will be that we had this conversation and somebody will go get checked because at 30, you don’t go get a mammogram.”
More than anything – she wants everyone to get checked.
“You know we go and buy the nicest clothes and nicest shoes and go on vacations - iPhone - the new iPhone is out and I’m sure people have bought the new iPhone,” she pointed out. “You just gotta go get the mammogram. Just like you go take your car to get checked out - you gotta take yourself to get checked out. You have to make the time.”
Jelisa has been sharing her journey over the past year. You can follow along here.