‘A lot of grief’: Breast cancer impacts number of women under age 40

An elementary teacher for Hickory Public Schools, life suddenly looked a lot different for her.
Ultimately, it’s a rare occurrence, but physicians like Dr. Julie Fisher say it’s important to understand this group’s unique needs.
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 11:54 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Caitlan Reese Killian was only 29 years old when she found out she had stage three triple-negative breast cancer.

“It was only a few months after my annual physical where I had a clean bill of health, and I actually discovered the lump myself,” Killian said.

An elementary teacher for Hickory Public Schools, life suddenly looked a lot different for her.

“I went through six months of chemo,” Killian said. “That was in spring of 2020. Then, a lobectomy over the summer. Then, I was able to do about 30 rounds of radiation that fall when I went back to school.”

Just three months later, though, and her journey still was far from over. After having a seizure in class in January 2021 that sent her to the hospital, doctors eventually discovered a brain tumor with a pathology that matched that of her breast cancer.

Related: Rare breast cancer cases can affect heart health

After more radiation and therapy, Killian had just gone back to school when doctors then discovered the cancer had metastasized in her liver. In June 2021, she began a 14-month stretch of chemoimmunotherapy.

“It keeps getting longer but we made it,” Killian said. “It’s never something you expect to happen in your 20s and early 30s.”

Killian represents about 5 to 7% of women under the age of 40 who will get a breast cancer diagnosis. Ultimately, it’s a rare occurrence, but physicians like Dr. Julie Fisher say it’s important to understand this group’s unique needs.

“It’s easy for them to feel isolated or alone coming here where more patients are older or in a different phase of life,” Fisher said. “Younger patients may be working, maybe raising families, which opens up a whole new group of issues and concerns that are unique to them.”

Fisher specifically does work with the Sandra Levine Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program, which represents a mind-body-spirit approach in addressing women who get cancer under the age of 40.

Programs like peer-matching, nutritional and cognitive therapy, and support groups help young women cope with an early breast cancer diagnosis.

Killian found community through these groups and also through sharing her journey through her increasingly popular blog and newsletter, Goodness & Grace.

It’s where she also celebrated the triumphs, including her marriage to her long-time partner, Andrew, in February 2022 while undergoing her treatment.

“When we were first diagnosed, we were just dating,” Killian said. “We were not even engaged. So, Andrew was along for the ride from the very beginning.

“We planned our wedding for all of 2021,” Killian said. “So, in the midst of chemo and all that, it was a wild and crazy ride!”

Her journey with chemoimmunotherapy continues today. She says she takes the good days and the bad days, but every day is a new chance at life.

“I learned a lot through this journey,” Killian said. “There’s a lot of change, a lot of grief, a lot of acceptance. But there’s also a lot of healing.”