In February 2021, 26 year old Madeleine Halle started to feel a weird pain, like a muscle spasm, partnered with some swelling in her right breast. The consistency gave her the feeling we all have experienced: “sometimes you feel like you need to go to the doctor, like it’s some inner feeling you cannot explain.” While she was confident it was an inflammatory infection, doctors also believed, due to her youth and lack of family history, that it was most likely a benign cyst. For this reason, they hesitated to do further testing, but Madeleine insisted they do more. Her self-advocacy paid off and an ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy later, she was diagnosed with stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma. Despite a stage 1 diagnosis, the cancer was aggressive and required immediate surgery.
At just 26 years old, Madeleine was catapulted into the breast cancer world with ““the total unknown of what breast cancer looks like or how it would impact my life.” A project manager by trade, Madeleine approached her treatment with the same fervor: “every experience I took was ‘ok how do we get through this and what are the steps.’ It helped it not be so emotional. I was almost numb focusing on what to do to get to the next step. It was a coping mechanism for how I got through treatment.” Treatment began with a double mastectomy, which because of COVID meant she was discharged same day and returned to her Boston apartment (with a roommate!) with her parents to play nurses. It was a trying time. She immediately entered IVF and followed that up with four rounds of chemotherapy, which proved brutal after realizing she was allergic. She also lost her hair immediately and though she did her best to rock her bald head.
Now, as she enters a new stage of survivorship with hormone treatment, she has had time to reflect on the positives of the experience. Chiefly, the new look on life she now has saying, “ I am so grateful for life. I have a new take on life in some ways- not in a cliché way- but just not sweating the small things and really enjoying celebrating, going out with friends, ordering great food and just embracing all of life’s experiences.” It’s a joy she wasn’t sure she would ever feel post diagnosis: “I am so lucky and grateful, but no one I knew had gone through this so it was really scary as a young person not knowing if I could have kids, or what getting into a relationship post diagnosis would be like. Being a young person diagnosed with no family history, no one prepares you for what life will look like post treatment. Especially my body- it has been a challenge to accept my new body and my new hair.”
Of one thing she is certain- self advocation saved her life and she hopes other women learn from her story: “no one knows you or your body like you, not even your doctors. It’s all about advocating for yourself for your best outcome.”