10/12/2011 08:24 am ET Updated Dec 11, 2011

How a Breast Cancer Walk Helped Me Heal

This year, I reached an incredible milestone. I celebrate 10 years being cancer-free after having been diagnosed with breast cancer at the early age of 26. I am incredibly proud of my status as a 10-year survivor, and the fact that breast cancer has changed my life in positive ways.

For as long as I can remember, I had cysts in my breasts. From 21 to 26 years old, I endured multiple biopsies and lumpectomies to remove benign breast cysts, but my doctors told me not to worry because, "Girls your age don't get breast cancer." Nevertheless, I dreaded every
doctor visit and wondered if any new cysts would be cancerous.

In the summer of 2001, my gynecologist identified a cyst that did not seem like the others. After the ultrasound, mammograms and needle biopsies came back inconclusive, I underwent two lumpectomies. Several weeks later, my doctors finally diagnosed me with breast cancer (ductal carcinoma in situ) in my left breast, and severe atypical hyperplasia in my right breast. The timing is never right to receive such a diagnosis, but I felt particularly cheated as I had just begun to plan my wedding to my then-fiancée, Chris. I had already ordered a beautiful strapless gown and chose a date and place for the wedding: April 2002. Suddenly, all my plans
were thrown into a tailspin. Instead of enjoying my bridal magazines and focusing on all the
wedding details that most girls dream about, Chris and I began seeing numerous doctors to
determine my treatment options. I was fortunate to have excellent health insurance, which
allowed me to consult the best doctors in the D.C. metropolitan area.

We eventually decided upon a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction as my treatment.
Given my young age, there was not a lot of available data as to how drugs like Tamoxifen and
radiation therapy would impact me long term. The decision to undergo a mastectomy is a
personal one, and I could not be happier with my choice. Our wedding turned out perfect, and I
looked amazing in my strapless gown. Now, I have even more beautiful breasts than before,
and more importantly, I no longer endure the terrible anxieties that used to come with my doctor visits.

As such a young breast cancer survivor, I have been given an incredible platform to tell
my story. While I initially resisted telling new people about my experiences, that all changed
once I decided to participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer (Washington, D.C.) in 2008.
I was selected to speak at the opening and closing ceremonies to a crowd of more than 3,500
people. I told my survival story and helped get out the message that young people do get breast
cancer. I can't even begin to explain how gratifying it was to have people come up to me
throughout the walk to say that my story inspired them.

I also was given the incredible privilege of introducing Reese Witherspoon, the Avon
Ambassador, as the guest speaker for the closing ceremony. To introduce Reese, I explained
how after I received my diagnosis I left work and just went home and cried. I finally decided to
go the movies to take my mind off the news and decided to see Legally Blonde. I told Reese how much it meant to me that she was able to make me laugh in her role and forget my troubles on the worst day of my life. Reese could not have been more gracious and lovely in her response to my story.

To celebrate my 10-year anniversary, I am fulfilling some of my long-held dreams. For example, I attended a taping of "The Price is Right," my favorite show since childhood, and even
was selected as a contestant. My husband, Chris, and I also took an amazing safari trip to
Tanzania to witness the awe-inspiring wildebeest migration. Sure, we could have waited until
we had more money, but breast cancer has taught me how short life is and how important it is to seize the opportunities in life. I will never forget how lucky I am to now be cancer-free.