Photo source: Metro
Annette Turner and her husband Troy were both 35 when they had their second child, a daughter named Chrissy. As she grew up, many things must have been on their minds, not the least of which was the fact that they had both had their own battles with cancer in their lifetimes. Annette had survived cervical cancer prior to Chrissy’s birth, while Troy has battled Non-Hodgkin lymphoma since diagnosis in 2008, when Chrissy was 1. Though they had each fought their way to remission, both knew that the risk of cancer returning in their lifetimes was present.
Annette continued to pursue her career as a personal life coach and holistic trainer, while Troy continued his career as an equipment specialist at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. They watched their eldest daughter, Brianna, grow into her teens and enter high school. For a while, even despite their struggles with cancer, everything seemed to be relatively normal. Yet in October of 2015, something happened that would shake their family to the core once again.
Chrissy let her parents know that there was a strange lump on her chest, and that it scared her. The Turners, suspecting the worst, went to the doctor immediately, determined to be proactive about finding out what, if anything, was wrong. They went in for a second and finally a third opinion before the lump was taken seriously and cancer was confirmed. Chrissy became one of the youngest individuals ever to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years later, she became the youngest person ever to survive it.
Diagnosed at eight years old
When Chrissy found the lump underneath her right nipple, her parents feared the worst. She was eight-years-old at the time, and had not even purchased her first bra. In order to be diagnosed as cancer, the lump would have to be tested and confirmed for cancerous cells. The first two doctors that the family went to did not test the lump. Instead, they deemed it the result of an infection, or otherwise classified it as a non-cancerous tumor.
The Turner family wasn’t convinced that the first two doctors had done all that they could, and given their own experiences with cancer, they wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt. They took Chrissy to a third doctor, who identified the lump as a cancerous tumor. Test results confirmed that the cancer was a rare type of breast cancer called secretory breast carcinoma. It occurs in less than 0.1% of all breast cancers, affecting one person in every million.
Originally, secretory breast carcinoma was called juvenile breast carcinoma, because at one point in time only children around the same age as Chrissy were found to have it. After the cancer was found to be present in adults as well, the disease was renamed accordingly. The cancer is a type of “triple negative” breast cancer, in which the tumor does not respond to hormonal treatment. Despite being difficult to treat, it grows slowly, and therefore tends to come with a more optimistic prognosis.
Since the Turner family was able to catch Chrissy’s cancer so early, she was able to undergo a mastectomy surgery in her right breast only a month after diagnosis. It was difficult for her parents to break the news to her, especially knowing of all that might follow, but Chrissy was determined to go through the surgery and come out positive and healed. She went in for the surgery as her parents prayed that the cancer was localized to her breast, and had not yet spread to her lymph nodes or any other part of her body.
Keeping cancer in remission
Chrissy went in for a PET scan following the mastectomy. It came back clean, and the entire Turner family celebrated the fact that Chrissy was cancer free, and would not have to go through radiation therapy. Every three months for the next two years, Chrissy would be seen for another scan, to ensure that the cancer was gone for good. After two years of routine scans, Chrissy’s cancer was determined to be gone for good, making her the youngest survivor of one of the rarest forms of breast cancer.
Even in remission, the risk of cancer returning is always present. The longer that time goes on without cancer being formed, the better the chances that the cancer will not return. Though Chrissy and her mother Annette have not experienced a return of their cancers, Troy did almost immediately after Chrissy’s surgery. He had been diagnosed with stage three non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and although he had been in remission for several years, doctors found areas of concern in 2011.
The family’s relentless positivity kept them afloat amidst such uncertainty in the face of cancer. Eight months after surgery, Chrissy was back to the monkey bars and excited just to be a kid. Her parents supported her growth in every direction that it took, saying that she “hasn’t slowed down a bit,” and that Chrissy showed “an overwhelmingly positive attitude and strength to overcome her situation and return to enjoying life.” Troy’s cancer went back into remission, and he attributes this is in large part to the support of his family. He says that Chrissy “has a spirit beyond her age,” and that she inspires him every day.
Life beyond cancer
The family has come together around their experiences with cancer, and remains close-knit and even closer than before. Annette says: “we’ve all had such close brushes with cancer… It’s really aligned us.” Even as the future remains uncertain for both Chrissy and her parents, the family has come together in growth and decided to pursue a fulfilling life in helping others and enjoying life to the fullest.
Chrissy herself is a girl who only likes pink if it supports cancer. She loves dragons above all else, as well as drawing, riding scooters, dancing, having her sister paint her nails, and reading. She still receives cards and gifts from supporters, and participates in events to help fundraise or raise awareness for those who have to go through something similar to the scary and difficult process that she and her family have had to go through.
Still, Chrissy will have to live with the fact that her right breast will never grow or develop. Annette says, “the hardest part is that we have her evolve,” and that she knows that “there’s going to be parts of her puberty, as she grows, that will be hard.” Chrissy does not seem to be bothered too much by this information, and though that could change with all of the emotional and hormonal changes that occur during puberty, Annette and Troy say that they will “support her however we possibly can.”
Chrissy’s parents have taken her to see a plastic surgeon to prepare her for the breast reconstruction that she will have to face one day. Though at first she was reluctant and shy about the process, Annette says that the doctor “kind of got her laughing,” and showed her what a breast implant looks like. By the time she left the appointment, she was in better spirits and the family felt surer about how to approach the inevitable future.
For the time being, Chrissy’s only responsibility is to grow and enjoy life. She has been remarkable in how she acknowledges her role in taking her story and turning into a positive message of hope for all who battle cancer. She has a few more years until she will need to address breast reconstruction, and until then, she works to teach others to embrace life and focus on all that is good.
Her message is that anyone can defeat cancer, and they can keep living. Of surviving cancer, she says, “This experience has taught me to keep moving forward and never give up. Through my cancer, I learned how important family really is and that we should enjoy every second of this life. I love spending time with my family and friends and just having fun.”