Valdosta Daily Times

October 8, 2012

Dealing with breast cancer at 24

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — On a Monday afternoon, Amelia Player was helping move brand-new fish tanks into her home. She hopes to grow coral and add one more tank to her collection of five. Her boyfriend, Hunter Butler, was glad to do the grunt work.

“He said ‘Anything to make you happy,’ ” said Player.

The fish tanks are a favored hobby and nice distraction for Player who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 24.

“I was diagnosed on July 24,” said Player.

Player, who just turned 25 on September 18, found the lump herself.

“I do self-checks and it was not there in May and I found it at the end of June,” said Player.

Player remembers vividly the day she found the lump under her left breast. It was on a Thursday. On that Monday, she went to see a gynecologist.

This was the first time Player had been to a gynecologist since moving back to Valdosta in November of 2011. She had been having irregular pap smears for two years and was supposed to be going to the gynecologist every six months anyway.

Doing self-checks for lumps and getting regular exams was something that Player had been doing faithfully for about three years. Her mother, Elizabeth Achor, is a one year survivor of ovarian cancer and her aunt also had a bout with cancer.

“My aunt had breast cancer,” said Player. “She’s two to five years out.”

These instances made the reality of cancer very probable for Player, so she took her check ups very seriously.

“Ever since my aunt was diagnosed, I started doing self-checks,” said Player.

However, she never expected to be diagnosed with it at the young age of 24. After her gynecologist confirmed the lump, she had a needle biopsy on July 17.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” said Player. “You’re just trying to prepare yourself for any outcome possible.”

As hard as Player tried to wrestle with the probability of cancer, she was not prepared to hear that she had invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), sometimes called infiltrating ductal carcinoma, which is the most common type of breast cancer. About 80 percent of all breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas.

“When I was diagnosed, I was at stage one and the mass was 1.5 cm,” said Player. “Stage one is the earliest stage.”

Player didn’t have much time to settle with the idea of cancer. Immediately, she was presented with three options. A lumpectomy where they would just remove the tumor, a single mastectomy where they would remove her left breast, or a double mastectomy where they would remove both of her breasts.

“I asked a lot of questions,” said Player.

The position of Player’s tumor was unique. Most women have a tumor on the side of the breast near their armpit. Player’s tumor was under her left breast almost on top of her top rib.

“If I got a lumpectomy (my breast) wouldn’t sit right,” said Player.

With a single mastectomy, Player would need breast reconstruction just to her left breast.

“I just said, you know what, take them both,” said Player. “My chance of reoccurrence would be less.”

Like any woman in her 20’s, Player pondered on the future, her looks, her identity. She hadn’t really been thinking about having children, but she thought about never being able to breast feed. She thought about looking deformed, she thought about feeling less like a woman, but most of all and most importantly, Player thought about never wanting to go through this ever again.

“They removed both of my breasts on August 16,” said Player.

The reality of her cancer didn’t really hit Player until after the surgery and it was time to remove the bandages and the dressing.

“I was sitting in the hospital bed and the nurse came in,” said Player. “It was a Saturday morning.”

As the nurse removed the bandages, Player kept her eyes closed tight.

“I started freaking out and crying,” said Player. “I wouldn’t look.”

That very Saturday, Aug. 18, Player came home. Her mother had just made it into town to be with her, and she wanted Player to look at her scars while she could be there with her.

“She wanted me to look before she left,” said Player. “That was probably the hardest thing.”

Player removed the dressing and the bandages and looked in the mirror and down at herself.

“Nothing but scars,” said Player.

Even as Player told the story of losing her breasts, her resolve didn’t break and she was very strong. Her face was one that was no stranger to tragedy and it was true.

“I have already been through hell in my life,” said Player.

Just nearly a decade ago when Player was just 16 and a sophomore at Lowndes High School, her sister, Amanda Player, and three others went missing during a fishing trip in Keaton Beach, Fla.

“They were never found,” said Player.

While Player thinks about her sister every day, her pain is magnified by not having her sister, whom she calls her best friend, here to be with her to get her through this struggle.

“I still walk into a crowded room somewhere and someone has a scent of perfume that smells like her and I turn my head,” said Player. “But it’s not her; it will never be her.”

Player’s life has been plagued with uncertainties. She never received closure in her sister’s death and, though doctors believe they removed all the cancer during surgery, her life will be full of ‘what ifs’ as she will only be deemed cancer-free if reoccurrence doesn’t occur in five to ten years.

“It’s a very scary feeling,” said Player. “I’m on pins and needles constantly.”

Player started chemotherapy at the Pearlman Cancer Center at South Georgia Medical Center on September 30.

“I go every two weeks and have a treatment,” said Player. “It’s eight treatments over 16 weeks.”

In addition to losing her breasts, Player also cut her hair to prepare for losing it due to the chemo.

“I cut it three weeks ago,” said Player. “I have no boobs, I have no hair, I felt like I looked like a boy.”

Though Player states that this journey has been emotionally draining, she is so thankful for the support that surrounds her. Her mother, her stepfather, Rich Achor, her father, Dall Player and her stepmother Becky Player, her stepsister, Amanda Anderson, her stepbrother, Austin Davis, her grandmother, Bea Folsom and countless others have given Player the strength she needs to carry on.

“Everybody has been so wonderful,” said Player.

She specifically pointed out 25-year-old Butler, her boyfriend of 11 months. They dated through the time her sister went missing and now he is by her side through this.

“He is my strength because I know that I love him and I know I want to spend the rest of my life with him,” said Player. “Not many 25-year-old boys would stick around for this.”

Right now, things are looking great for Player. Doctors tell her things are looking great and as of right now, she is “unofficially” cancer free.

While Player knows her story is unique, she knows it is not isolated just to her or impossible.

“Self-check; stay on top of it,” urged Player. “It’s rare but it can happen and it’s so important to take it seriously.”

It is that very attitude that has possibly saved Player’s life and could possibly save someone else’s.