Entering her 40s, Nasreen Shahi said she felt like she was in the best health of her life.
“I was exercising five days a week, eating well, working, thriving,” she said. “I didn’t have a single symptom of breast cancer.”
Last fall, Nasreen, a full-time influencer (@heynasreen on Instagram) and mom to three young children, was due for an annual gynecological appointment. At that appointment, her doctor did a breast exam and thought that although Nasreen had always had dense breasts, her right breast felt a little different this time. Because of her age, she was due to get her first mammogram anyway, so the doctor ordered a 3D mammogram.
“She didn’t make it sound like anything I had to be really worried about,” Nasreen said. “I got an appointment about a month later, and then at the mammogram, right away, I could tell there was something wrong. My breast surgeon later described it as a ‘sneaky’ tumor because it was very nebulous and spread out and large, but not protruding like a lump.”
The days immediately after that mammogram were a whirlwind. In early October, just eight days after a biopsy confirmed Nasreen had triple-positive breast cancer with a positive lymph node, she was starting chemotherapy. At an appointment very early on, her oncologist also noticed Nasreen’s liver felt firm to the touch and immediately ordered a PET scan.
That scan revealed even more shocking news: Nasreen not only had breast cancer, but it had also metastasized to her liver.
“We were waiting on pins and needles for the doctor to call after that PET scan,” Nasreen said. “I remember my kids were sitting at the dinner table eating. My husband wasn’t home yet. She said I had widespread disease, and I ran into my room because I didn’t want my kids to see my reaction. I just remember thinking, My kids are too young. This can’t be our story.”
Thankfully, Nasreen’s care team was moving fast, and once her breast cancer was confirmed to be metastatic, she started on six rounds of Taxotere (a chemotherapy), Herceptin, and Perjeta every three weeks. Her liver mets responded quickly and positively.
Being a beauty- and fashion-focused content creator, losing her hair during chemo was especially difficult.
“It was really hard to accept that physical change,” she said. “I had a beautiful wig, which I was so thankful for, but it still didn’t feel quite like me. I felt more me wearing a hat. I was glad to still have some hair thanks to cold capping so it didn’t scare my kids so much.”
After finishing chemo, she got a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
“I don’t think anything could have prepared me for that,” she said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. After about three weeks or so, I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but those were some dark days. I just couldn’t believe this was happening because I was so healthy, so perfectly fine.”
After 28 rounds of radiation, Nasreen was thrilled to find out that she has no evidence of disease. She will continue to go for Herceptin and Perjeta infusions every three weeks and scans every three months indefinitely—or until new, better options come along.
As a mom and wife, Nasreen said her biggest fear is that she won’t be there for her family. Dealing with sleepless nights and fear has been harder than anything she physically experienced during treatment.
“It really was life-changing in so many ways not just for me—but for my entire family,” she said. “Whether you have stage one or stage four, breast cancer is a family diagnosis. My whole family was rocked to the core. Today, we’re the closest we’ve ever been.”
Nasreen said she was grateful for an amazing family and support system to help her get through treatment, and she said she found comfort and purpose sharing her story online.
“People have told me they’ve gone and gotten their mammograms because of my posts,” she said. “If sharing my journey is helping someone, I’m going to keep sharing. I want other busy moms to not take their health for granted. I would never skip my kids’ annual appointments, but I have for sure in the past skipped my own, and that’s not OK. Annual exams and self-exams will save your life.”
Nasreen is also grateful for incredible recent progress in metastatic breast cancer research that has led to new therapies—and she’s hopeful about more treatments on the horizon.
“Five years ago, my diagnosis would have been a death sentence, but today, my diagnosis is considered somewhat treatable for a long time,” she said. “I’m thankful for what organizations like BCRF do for people like me. Without research, I wouldn’t be here.
Read more stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.
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