‘Stunned’: Billerica resident opens up about diagnosis as breast cancer rates climb in young women

BILLERICA, Mass. — At 30 years of age, Sara O’Brien, of Billerica, got devastating news. She had breast cancer.

It came as a shock to a young woman who was an athlete and prided herself on living a healthy lifestyle.

“Your mind kind of goes blank a little bit when that first comes. And then there’s so much anger that follows, right? Like why would this happen to somebody like me? I felt betrayed by my own body.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon,” said Doctor Corrine Zarwan of the Lahey Cancer Institute. “We’re seeing rates of breast cancer in young adults going up.”

O’Brien just finished ten years of treatment that included a lumpectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, and a decade of taking hormone pills every day.

Doctor Zarwan told Boston 25 News, “There are different biological factors with young women who had breast cancer compared to older women. They tend to have a more aggressive disease in many cases.”

Since young women are not routinely screened for breast cancer, they need to be assertive about any physical changes they notice.

“It’s very important to listen to your body,” added O’Brien. “If something seems off, there’s no shame in getting it investigated.”

Developing healthy habits overall is a good idea too, said Doctor Zarwan.

“The simple things that we should all be doing apply here as well, getting exercise, eating well, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding smoking for sure.”

On Sunday, the Lahey Cancer Institute, where O’Brien was treated, will hold its annual 5K walk and run.

The event has raised almost $4 million over the last 17 years.

“There’s so much that patients need when they’re going thru cancer treatment, and a lot of it is either not covered by insurance or under-reimbursed,” said Doctor Zarwan.

O’Brien plans to lace up her running shoes and be part of the pack. She’ll be cheered along the route by family and friends.

“I’m just so grateful for everything that has been, and I’m also looking forward to the luxury of being able to get older.”

It’s not too late to get involved in Sunday’s 5K if you’re interested in running or walking.

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