HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Breast cancer among women younger than 40 is rare. But it does happen. It happened to Gabriela Baez, a 25-year-old single mother.
"I was the one that was comforting my mother, my sisters and letting them know that it was going to be OK," Baez said. "I just wanted to move forward and figure out what we were going to do from there."
Baez was diagnosed in July. She went to see the specialists at Memorial Healthcare's Memorial Cancer Institute.
"In our facility, about 20 percent of breast cancers are detected between ages 40-50," medical oncologist Dr. Michel Velez said. "But we have a good percentage of women who are coming up with a diagnosis earlier than 40."
Studies show younger women are more likely than older women to have advanced stage cancers at the time of diagnosis.
It's why Velez encourages all women to pay attention to certain key factors, especially whether or not there's an inherited risk for the disease.
"A lot of times, it's associated with a genetic predisposition or a very strong family history," Velez said.
Baez was diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer, and, in her case, family history did play a role.
"My mother had Stage 4 ovarian cancer and my maternal aunt had breast cancer twice, and she's still with us as well," Baez said.
Baez also tested positive for the BRAC1 gene mutation. She's currently midway through her chemotherapy treatments and will most likely undergo a double mastectomy.
"If you can do something to prevent it, then you should," she said. "That's why it's extremely important to get your mammograms and be on top of it every year."
Baez has vowed to talk to other women about being proactive about their health. It's a conversation she also plans to have with her daughter, Valentina, when the time comes.
"I want to fight, and I don't believe that this is something that is going to destroy me," Baez said. "I don't believe this is the end at all for me."
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