If it hadn’t been for an intense workout and an accidental drop of her loofah, Theresa Sundstrom might not have found her cancer nearly as early as she did.
As it was, the 31-year-old nurse anesthetist from Minnetonka, Minnesota, dropped her loofah in the shower and was too tired and sore to bend over to pick it up. Instead, she decided to finish washing her body with her hand, and that’s when her hand grazed across a lump in her breast.
“I was sore from working out earlier in the week, and I’d just done a 45-minute Cody Rigsby ride, so my thighs were fatigued from biking,” says Theresa. “I dropped my loofah and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so lazy, I don’t want to pick it up.’”
“I’d forgotten to shave my armpits,” she continues, “So I just lathered soap across my chest and into my armpit area with my hands, and then I grazed across a bump.”
Theresa had a virtual visit with her doctor due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and then she was sent to have a mammogram and an ultrasound, followed by a biopsy. She got a call a few days later to inform her that she had invasive ductal carcinoma, which is an aggressive type of breast cancer.
“I never thought I would have breast cancer at the age of 31,” says Theresa, who was at work when she got the call. “I went home and cried it out and then I said, ‘Let’s figure it out.’”
Theresa underwent 16 weeks of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and breast reconstruction to treat her cancer. She chronicled her entire cancer journey on her Instagram account, Quarantini and Chemo.
Now, with the help of social media, Theresa is encouraging other women, particularly young women, to “drown their loofah” and get to know their breasts so that they can catch breast cancer early too. Her Instragram account has nearly 3,000 followers, and she runs a blog as well.
“I challenge you to get to know your body: every lump, bump, wrinkle and freckle,” Theresa wrote in a post the night before her surgery. “Having a built-in road map of your body might save your life.”
Theresa has made sure to stay focused but also have lots of fun during her treatment. She made a goal to reach 200 rides on her Peloton bike before the end of chemo, and she completed that goal. She also created mocktails inspired by the chemo drugs she was taking.
Breast cancer is most common in older women, but men and younger women can get it as well. Roughly 11 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women below the age of 45. Breast cancer in younger women is often faster-growing and more aggressive, making it even more important to find it quickly and get it treated.
Theresa hopes her story can inspire others to do their breast self-exams early and often and to always get their cancer screening done on time. She is now cancer-free but will continue to get checked regularly to ensure her cancer doesn’t reappear.
“Even though my mom had breast cancer, I never did a self-exam,” Theresa admits. “I didn’t even have a baseline of what my breasts felt like because I wasn’t checking them every month.”
“My message is know your body: Know what’s normal for you, and it’ll be so much easier to know if something’s abnormal and act on it quickly. My stage was 1-B, and if I had never dropped that loofah, the cancer would have been in my lymph nodes and metastasized in my body. I’m just so fortunate for that night.”
If you haven’t already, talk to your doctor about your breast cancer risk and start getting to know your breasts right away so you’ll have a better chance of knowing when something’s wrong! Be on the lookout for symptoms such as dents, dimples, red rash, swelling, nipple discharge or inverted nipples.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
Support those fighting Breast Cancer at The Breast Cancer Site for free! →