Amanda Quick felt a small lump under her left armpit one day in the shower. Having just gotten a COVID-19 vaccine—knowing the shot could cause temporarily swollen lymph nodes—and feeling run ragged by work at the time, she didn’t worry. Plus, at 29 years old, breast cancer wasn’t on her mind.
Still, as someone who is fastidious about getting preventive care and prioritizing her health, she checked with her doctor, who told her to wait a few weeks and call back if the lump was still there.
“Then the lump went from pea-sized to much larger and very hard,” she remembered. “I thought, ‘Yeah, something’s up,’ and called my mother.”
Amanda made appointments with her OBGYN, who ordered an ultrasound of the area, and with her primary care doctor for the annual physical and routine blood work she was due for anyway. After the radiological team performed the ultrasound of the spot under her armpit, Amanda tried to distract herself and keep her mind calm about the situation when she wasn’t at work. Later in the week, while off hanging out with a friend by a pool, Amanda received a call from her primary care doctor.
“She said, ‘Your bloodwork came back, and something is very odd,’” Amanda remembered. “I had extremely, extremely elevated blood levels in my liver. The doctor said it was so concerning because the levels were what you would see with someone who is a heavy drinker.”
Amanda’s doctor ordered an ultrasound of her liver, which detected some suspicious spots, so her doctor ordered a CT scan. At this point—after getting two ultrasounds and the CT scan—doctors suspected that the armpit lymph node lump and liver spots were connected.
“I’m still not thinking it could be cancer, but my confidence level definitely started to change, and I tried not to relent to thinking the worst,” she said.
After several more tests, including a mammogram, and biopsies of her breast and liver, her diagnosis was confirmed: Amanda had metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
“I remember walking down the street in New York City and just crying,” she said.
Amanda soon went into preparation mode while waiting to get in to see an oncologist. Figuring she’d have chemotherapy, she talked to her hairdresser about a wig. She researched surgery, sought out breast cancer organizations, spoke to other women with breast cancer, met with her pastor for spiritual guidance, and began to gather support from family and friends. After considering two oncology opinions, she put together her care team.
“I was preparing for all of this, not realizing that ‘metastatic’ is a different treatment plan. It’s not even about the stage of breast cancer, which is one of the first questions people ask,” she said.
At first, Amanda was treated with a CDK4/6 inhibitor, approved just six years ago, along with aromatase inhibitors. She received monthly injections for her bone health and estrogen suppression, and she gets scans every six months.
“My doctor treats ‘it’ like it’s a chronic disease like diabetes or high blood pressure,” she said. “Technically, there’s no cure, and I’ll be on medicine for the rest of my life. But I can still live an amazingly full life because of research, and I am grateful.”
Her attitude remains unchanged even though Amanda, now 31, received a positive biopsy last month despite getting closer to NED (no evidence of disease). Her treatment regimen had run its course with evidence of the disease in her bone. But thanks to advances in the treatment of MBC, she has other options.
“With MBC, cells eventually become resistant to treatment,” said Amanda, who recently switched to oral chemotherapy. “Having another line of treatment has given me an enormous amount of hope, but it also means that I get more time to live with a quality of life that I may not have otherwise. Because of additional treatments, I don’t have to live in fear that there are no other options for women living with MBC.”
Still, the two-plus years Amanda has lived with MBC have not been easy. She has had to confront her mortality at an incredibly young age, face the reality that she may be unable to carry children, and cope with the additional complexities of dating. As a Black woman, she has had to learn to advocate for herself in the medical system and to help educate on the cancer stereotype. But health-wise, she feels she is able to live something of a “normal” life most days.
“Because of what we see in the media and online, when we think of cancer, we think of a person who has no hair and appears weak. It’s sometimes difficult to tell people about my diagnosis because I don’t look sick. People don’t understand this is a lifetime thing because I look physically good or don’t complain. But it does not mean me and my body are not fighting every day to thrive,” she said.
But Amanda has also been inspired to find purpose in her diagnosis and community with other young women impacted by breast cancer. Amanda joined the Board of Directors for The Pink Agenda (TPA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of breast cancer among younger women and raising funds for BCRF. Last October, Amanda began speaking out about her diagnosis very publicly—joining BCRF partners Ann Taylor and LOFT in their “Sisterhood of Strength” campaign and sharing her experience on Good Morning America and Suffering the Silence.
“I was nervous to share my story so publicly, because when you google MBC, you see someone has a few years to live,” she said. “But when I go to the cancer center, I see people living with it for decades. I want to share my story and my experience because we need to continue to change the conversation around MBC. There’s urgency, but there’s also so much more hope.”
That hope, Amanda said, is because of research—and the incredible pace of progress in recent years.
“Research is the reason we’re seeing extended life for women who have later-stage diagnoses. It’s the reason that we’re detecting breast cancer earlier. It’s the reason that there are a lot of women like me who are alive and thriving today,” she said. “Even five years ago the outlook for MBC was bleak, but people who have MBC now talk about how lifespan and quality of life is getting so much better. I have benefitted tremendously from research.”
Read more stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.
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