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How my breast cancer diagnosis taught me to advocate for myself — and others

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Aubrey Morgart, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31, shares her story.
Aubrey Morgart, a store manager who lives in Bedford, Penn.
Aubrey Morgart, a store manager who lives in Bedford, Penn.Courtesy of Aubrey Morgart.

At age 31, Aubrey Morgart never thought about breast cancer. When she felt a lump in her left breast six years ago, her OB-GYN told her it was an activated milk duct from breastfeeding her daughter. There was no reason to believe otherwise.

“They didn’t send me right away for a mammogram. It wasn't scheduled until two weeks later. I thought ‘OK, it must not be anything serious,’” recounted Morgart, a store manager who lives inBedford, Pennsylvania. “I went for my mammogram, and they sent me to an ultrasound, and then back to mammogram, then back to ultrasound. At that point I knew something was up ... My biopsy was scheduled for the next day and I knew by Friday that I had breast cancer.”

Specifically, Morgart was diagnosed with stage three, HER2-positive breast cancer, which is more aggressive than other forms of cancer. She had just returned from her honeymoon with her husband, and was juggling a full-time job and a toddler. This was no time for cancer.

Morgart decided to move forward and get the best treatment possible, without thinking negatively.

“I stopped reading anything online. People don’t write about the positive. If I can put a positive spin on it as much as I can, then that is important,” Morgart recounted thinking. “Let’s get this s--- on the road, get it out of my body and get on with life.”

Morgart underwent a double mastectomy and six rounds of chemo. She was then invited to take part in a drug trial for Kadcyla, which was approved by the FDA in May this year. Her daughter was a huge motivation for Morgart to participate in the trial.

“My daughter asked, ‘is that gonna happen to me?’” said Morgart. “So when my oncologist said ‘hey, this trial's available and you're perfect for it.’ I think that I signed the paperwork right there that day.”

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Since the trial, Morgart has been cancer-free, and she has a new outlook. As a working mom, she finally learned how to carve out time for herself.

“As you get older, you don’t take time for yourself once you have a child. I worked, I took care of her and my husband, but I didn’t make time for me,” said Morgart. “Once I got through everything, I started doing Crossfit every day. I thought: I deserve this. I want to be strong. I want to be healthy again ... I go to the gym, have girlfriends, we go out together...I found the importance of doing things for myself and making that time for myself, which I didn’t before.”

Her co-workers were uniquely supportive during her journey, which empowered her to have a career while taking care of herself.

“My assistant had to step up. They were all so supportive. I was out for a good while after my surgeries,” said Morgart. “If companies recognize that you do need to live your life and allow you to do so by being flexible, that helps through the process.”

More than anything, Morgart has enjoyed advocating for other young women who are undergoing the same struggle. About 250,000 women under 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and breast cancer in younger women tends to be more aggressive.

Morgart participates in fundraisers to fight breast cancer, and she hosts an annual clay pigeon shooting event in her town. She once raised $3,000 for a local breast cancer organization.

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“My mom said I was born with a pink cape,” said Morgart. “I’ll always carry it with me for sure. The cancer is in front of my face very day, when I get a shower. I have scars all over, but I choose to look at it like I was diagnosed for a reason. This was put on me for a purpose. If I can bring awareness to other women, then there was a reason for all of this.”

Morgart also informally connects with other women who are undergoing the same struggle. She acts as a sort of cancer coach.

“I’m taking those women who have been newly diagnosed and helping them through: these are the questions you need to ask, this is what you have to do, if you don’t feel comfortable with the doctor you saw, ask for a second opinion. I sent one woman actual pictures of my scars and what to expect,” said Morgart. “It’s therapeutic for me, too.”