PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Fox 4 is sharing the story of a woman from Port Charlotte who was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 28 years old.
Sami Pickens' story is a reminder that no matter how young, healthy, and active you are, cancer doesn't discriminate. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2019.
Pickens said she was training for a half marathon and hurt her foot, so her daily workouts were focused on upper body.
"I was super sore one night getting out of the shower, and I kind of pressed on like my pec muscles," she said.
That's when she said she felt it: a lump the size of a tiny seed that rocked her entire world.
"That's the beginning of my diagnosis story," Pickens said.
She and her husband Justin were hopeful it was just a muscle tear or injury, but a mammogram determined she had breast cancer.
"It was shocking. And then, at 28, I almost thought 'Maybe they got the wrong pathology for the wrong person? Maybe they switched me with somebody else?' That's like the first thing that comes into your mind. I think I’m lucky, though, to just have really strong faith. So I quickly went from shock, to 'OK, God's got me. My family has me, we're going to get through this," she said.
Pickens found out she was BRCA 1 positive, meaning she inherited a mutation in her BRCA 1 gene, which increases her risk of breast cancer.
"The next step with the BRCA 1, when I weighed the risks and benefits, was to go ahead and get a double mastectomy," she said. "That was really hard at 28 to come to terms with. Not so much even from a cosmetic standpoint, because I knew I was going to get expanders, and then I was going to get implants put in, so I knew eventually I would look normal in the sense of a 28 year old. But for me, it was really hard from a workout perspective, because I knew this was going to wreck my current ability to work out, and it would be a long time to come back from that."
After her double mastectomy, Pickens was cancer free. Her life started to go back to the one she knew before cancer, until 7 months after her initial diagnosis, her cancer returned.
"I felt a little seed in the same exact spot as the first time during my breast exam that I now religiously do the first of every month,” she said. "I literally fell to the floor. My stomach just started cramping, and I feel like I'm going to throw up. And I just sat down on the floor, and I was just like, 'What is happening? Why? Why would this be here?'” she said.
Pickens and her doctors started a more aggressive treatment plan.
"I got to have a mastectomy again on the left side, and then I did four rounds of chemotherapy and radiation," she said.
With that treatment came nausea, headaches, muscle soreness, fatigue, lack of energy, and brain fog.
"I was very frustrated with one of the physicians who spoke to the hair loss as kind of that was going to be the hardest part of chemotherapy. Losing the hair was very hard, and it was hard to shave my head with my husband. But that's nothing compared to everything else people that go through chemotherapy are dealing with,” she said.
Pickens has been cancer free for the last year and a half. She said over the next few years, she'll have quarterly check ups for radiation, infusions every six months, and she'll take medicine every day.
Pickens said she's hopeful for the future, and plans to spend more time with her husband and loved ones who've gotten her through, and remember to be grateful for the little things.
"Grateful to do my hair in the morning, going to the gym and being so thankful to be in the gym, going to church and meeting people and being so thankful to spread the goodness of God and all he can do. It just put a whole new lens on every part of my life," she said.
Pickens has a blog where you can follow along on her journey. She said she wants to remind women to do monthly self-exams, and get their routine mammograms, especially if they're high risk.
She said if you're trying to support someone going through breast cancer, no action is too small.