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Texas State Student Diagnosed with Breast Cancer Hopes to Inspire Others with Her Journey

Publication: WOAI-TV (NBC, San Antonio), KABB-TV (FOX, San Antonio)
10/27/2020

21-year-old Arianna Apodaca is a student, a part-time employee and a fighter. She was studying to become a radiation therapist at Texas State University when suddenly the student became the patient.

“The first time I was diagnosed I was 19. It was 10 days before my 20th birthday,” Apodaca says.

She says she felt a lump in her breast and immediately knew something was wrong. She called her doctor, had a biopsy, and was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.

“I’m like I’m 19-years-old. My birthday is coming up. I was literally just about to go to class and I just got horrible news in the middle of the week,” she says.

Arianna met with Dr. Sharon Wilks at Texas Oncology. Together they worked to come up with a treatment plan to help her stay in school while fighting.

I remember meeting her and even though I’d been in practice for 30 years at that point – I’ve been an oncologist now for 31 – it took my breath away,” Dr. Wilks says.

Arianna did 16 rounds of chemotherapy and underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction. But the cancer came back less than a year later.

“Even though this is clearly a heartbreak and took us all by surprise we still feel like she has a great chance of being cured,” says Dr. Wilks.

Doctors believe the reason Arianna got breast cancer so young is because she’s positive for BRCA 1. It’s a gene mutation increasing her risk for the disease. Now she’s talking with high school students and people in her community hoping to inspire and remind women to know their bodies.

“Early detection is the best detection and that’s the golden quote for cancer, literally. If you see any symptoms, any signs, I would say go get it look at even if it’s the smallest thing,” Arianna says.

She’s also using her experience to help her patients.

“I feel like I can relate to my patient a whole lot more. I’m way more sympathetic to their situations. It’s really inspiring, and I feel like I’ve also helped a lot of my patients come into better health with me telling them that I’m a survivor.”

You may not think it could happen to you. But Arianna says cancer doesn’t discriminate.

“We don’t ever hear about young women being diagnosed with breast cancer, but it happens more often than people think it does,” Arianna says.

This year doctors expect more than 325 thousand women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Of those, more than 42 thousand are expected to die from it.

“The reality is just being a lady and have breast tissue one is at risk for breast cancer,” says Dr. Wilks.

Dr. Wilks says it is the leading cause of cancer in this country. She says there are a few early warning signs you need to be on the lookout for that may indicate a problem.

“Women should be looking for changes in terms of lumps, if there’s asymmetry between the breasts, if there’s a dimpling effect, if there’s discharge that looks bloody in the breast, but it can sometimes even be brown or other coloration. If there is a change they should really go and get that checked out immediately and really be proactive to make sure that people do address their concerns and get testing that is proper right way,” Dr. Wilks says.

Dr. Wilks suggests annual mammograms for women once they turn 40 if they have no family history of breast cancer. She also suggests annual breast exams by a provider at age 21. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, she suggests mammograms begin 10 years before the age your family member was diagnosed.

View the full story at WOAI-TV and KABB-TV.

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