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The Tie That Binds

Their friendship did not start in the most conventional way. In fact, Krissy Posey and Angela Meadows did not even meet until both were in their late 20s. But these two women quickly forged a close bond that had the pair swapping stories and experiences over brunch or a cup of tea, just like lifelong friends.

“If a week or so goes by and I haven’t heard from her, I’ll just call or text and see how she’s doing,” Posey said. “It was a natural bond from the beginning.”

That is probably not surprising considering the source of the bond: breast cancer. Although not yet 30, both were diagnosed with cancer and underwent bilateral mastectomies, choosing the expertise of Katharine Yao, MD, and NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center. Dr. Yao and the comprehensive team of NorthShore caregivers quickly recognized the women’s unique circumstance and introduced the two patients, figuring they would have plenty to share.

“It’s nice to have someone who’s going through the same process you are, that you don’t have to explain everything to and who relates to you,” said Meadows, now 30 and living in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. “Through our shared NorthShore experience, we’ve become really good friends.”

Meadows said her gynecologist first found a lump in her breast during a routine physical and immediately referred her to Kellogg Cancer Center. A subsequent ultrasound and mammogram were inconclusive, but a needle biopsy confirmed cancer. Meadows was stunned but determined to fight the disease and get on with her life.

“When the doctor told me it was cancer the first words out of my mouth were, ‘What do I do now? How do I take care of this?’ ” she recalled. “I just thought, ‘I don’t have time for this. I’ve got things to do. Let’s get the surgery scheduled and let’s get this over with.’ ”

Posey, also now 30 and living in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, described a similar scenario when she too was referred to NorthShore. “It was a complete shock,” she said of the diagnosis. “I took a deep breath and said, ‘What do I need to do next?’”

It was Kellogg Cancer Center Nurse Navigator Beth Weigel who gave Meadows’ phone number to Posey and suggested the two connect. Posey called and an instant bond was formed. “We met at a bookstore for some tea and laughed about our experiences,” said Posey. Many phone calls, texts and visits followed.

“It’s nice to have someone your own age to talk to and complain to and all that,” said Meadows, adding that it was particularly helpful because the mental aspect of the cancer fight was often as tough as the physical. “You’re thinking, ‘I’m 29 years old and this is not happening to me right now.’ You just think of it as an older woman’s disease.”

Indeed, although there is some debate about when screening mammography for breast cancer should start, for healthy women it is no sooner than age 40. But Dr. Yao, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, said that anecdotally she has seen an increase in the number of young breast cancer patients in her practice.

NorthShore is also participating in a national study looking at ways to improve care and outcomes for these younger patients.

“These patients are unique, and we need to know the absolute best way to deliver care to them,” Dr. Yao said.

Both Meadows and Posey have worked their way through the chemotherapy regimen, had reconstructive surgery with NorthShore plastic surgeon Mark Sisco, MD, and are both doing well. “The whole experience has been life-altering, mentally, physically and emotionally,” said Posey. “So having someone that I could closely connect to in this way was great.”

Dr. Yao said the women benefited from the unique system of care at Kellogg Cancer Center, where teams of specialists discuss cases at weekly multidisciplinary breast conferences and patients are seen at multidisciplinary breast clinics with breast surgeons and medical oncologists working side by side.

“And credit goes to both of these young women, too,” Dr. Yao added. “They were inspirational in the way they handled this and fought the disease, and how they did it together.”