In 2010, when she was just 18 years old, Tatiana Konovalov of Santa Barbara, Calif. discovered a small lump in her breast.
Given her age, it was quickly dismissed by doctors as nothing more than a cyst.
For years, Konovalov would tell doctors about the lump but says her concerns were never taken seriously, nor were tests performed.
“It was poked and prodded and then promptly ignored,” Konovalov wrote in an essay for Love What Matters. “I was told, ‘If it was cancer it probably would have killed you already’ and ‘Why would you put yourself through an unnecessary surgery?'”
Last year, Konovalov became concerned once again when the cyst became sensitive to touch, and visible through her clothing. At her next doctor’s visit, Konovalov was insistent that the cyst be removed, even though her physician assured her it couldn’t be cancerous. A breast surgeon did a biopsy and scheduled a cyst removal.
Just days later Konovalov was working at her job as food and beverage manager at the Four Seasons Biltmore when she learned she had cancer.
“The manager I was working probably thought I was crazy,” she wrote of the moment she received the news. “Obviously I work at one of the most hospitable places on earth and everyone always stops you and says hello and asks how are doing, and all I could think [and] all I wanted to yell is, ‘Not great, today I have cancer!'”
Konovalov described the following weeks as “a blur” while she decided how to tackle the diagnosis of a grade 3 tumour, which could potentially grow or spread.
“The whole process was intimidating and overwhelming. I was suddenly faced with questions I had never considered at 27,” she said. “The biggest decision of them being my fertility. At 27, my boyfriend and I were talking future but kids were something we would go back and forth on, but the possibility of not having the chance at all, made me suddenly acutely want children.”
Just two days after having her cyst removed, Konovalov began fertility drugs and learned first hand the expensive price tag that comes with it.
“The thought that finances would get in the way of us someday having out own biological children was devastating,” she said. “But we did something very personal and we reached out to our friends and family, and we will forever be grateful for the hundreds of people who reached out to help us afford the opportunity to have children”
In less than 24 hours, the couple received $20,000 in donations and were able to use that money to harvest enough eggs from Konovalov to have eight healthy embryos.
Because of the nature of her cancer, Konovalov required chemotherapy, even though the tumour had been removed.
“I had so many unknowns in regards to chemo,” she said. “The world paints a very ugly picture and I felt fine, the cancer was gone, why should I have to get sick to get better? I spent many hours ugly crying in front of the computer as I googled every known side effect of chemotherapy. I would be hairless, bloated, confused and exhausted, my nails would fall off, I would throw up all the time…the list goes on. But, I had to put my fears aside!”
The aggressive treatment caused Konovalov to become anemic and she was briefly hospitalized with neutropenic fever, a common form of infection for people undergoing chemotherapy caused by a low amount of a type of white blood cells called neutrophil.
“Living in a 21 day cycle of feeling ill and then preparing to feel ill again is no joke,” she admitted. “But having made it out the other side I can confidently say that my imagination was far worse than anything I had to experience.”
Now, Konovalov is preparing to undergo a double mastectomy once she’s deemed healthy enough by doctors, and has plans to have reconstructive surgery. Despite her struggles, Konovalov said she has come out the other side of cancer a changed person.
“I have never felt more beautiful or more empowered. I have tapped into a strength I never knew I had,” she said. “I have spent more time with my family and loved ones than I have in years. I have shifted my perspective and have identified what is truly important in my life. I am so grateful to my partner Erik who has shined through this whole process. He has been to every blood draw, every appointment, every surgery, he has slept in uncomfortable hospital chairs and held my hand through my darkest days and has not once faltered.”