BYU student and breast cancer survivor Brooke Ahlander was recognized at the BYU men’s basketball game in the Marriott Center on Saturday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m.
Ahlander was diagnosed with breast cancer four days after getting engaged in February 2014. She moved her wedding date up so she would still have hair in her wedding photos.
She began chemotherapy treatment at Huntsman Cancer Center the day after returning from her honeymoon. She then had a double mastectomy at the Central Utah Clinic.
Ahlander wrote on her blog about the day she discovered the news. She was working as a dental hygienist and had finished her 3 p.m. appointment before glancing at her phone. She had four missed calls and two voice mails. The first voice mail was from the hospital, asking Ahlander to call immediately. Another voice mail was from another hospital asking to set up appointments.
“All of a sudden I started to feel panicked,” Ahlander said. “I called the doctor’s office looking for some answers. I talked to Cheryl, the nurse, and she told me my lump had come back as cancerous. She threw out terms like ‘stage two,’ ‘grade three’—terms I had once memorized but couldn’t recall their meaning.”
Ahlander began to cry and thought of her fiancé, Rob. “How could I tell my fiancé of three days that I had cancer?” she wrote on her blog. “I called him, and he was completely calm, reminding me how much he loved me. As hard as it’s been to balance my emotion(s) and his logical, I began to feel extremely grateful for his logic.”
She then began cleaning her 4 p.m. patient’s teeth and felt tears coming down her cheeks, which fell on the patient’s forehead. The patient asked if Ahlander was OK. She revealed the news about her breast cancer and was sent home, where her fiancé comforted her.
Ahlander and her fiancé have since married, and she will soon start her next round of treatment, which will continue until April. Some side effects of the treatments include extreme fatigue, hair loss and loss of vision in her left eye.
“I just got really tired and really nauseous. I used something called a penguin cap that helped me keep my hair from chemo, but I ended up still losing half of my hair,” she said.
The cap works by cooling hair capillaries and slowing the hair follicle’s metabolic rate to a hibernated state, which prevents the hair bulbs from absorbing the chemo drugs in the scalp.
Ahlander has received all of her chemotherapy treatment at the Huntsman Cancer Center. “They have been the best. Any complications of chemo I’ve had, they addressed it so quickly,” she said.
Ahlander said the biggest thing she has learned from this experience is how to better understand the experiences of others.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is probably empathy for other people. People go through hard things, but we have no idea,” she said. “People would look at me and have no idea that I had this big thing I was going through.”
Ahlander plans to continue working as a dental hygienist and hopes to someday have kids and start a family.