12/13/02 - Breast Cancer at 20

You usually don't hear about women getting breast cancer until later in life, but for one Heartland woman the diagnosis came much sooner. Rashiya Washington was only 20 years old when doctors told her she had breast cancer. Now, three years later she's cancer free and celebrating a huge milestone in her life.
"When I found out I didn't know how to react," Rashiya says. "I just dropped the phone and started crying. It didn't feel real." But it was real. After getting a second opinion, an ultrasound showed that Rashiya, who was only 20 years old at the time, had breast cancer. A lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation followed. Rashiya lost all her hair, something she worried about very much. Cancer risks run in her family. Her mother was diagnosed with the disease when she was young, only 27. "I used to think if it happened it wouldn't happen so young, especially since I did my self-exams I thought it would be benign," she says.
Her main concern wasn't just beating the disease, but also staying in school at SIU in Carbondale. "I don't like taking breaks, I like to go through without break," Rashiya says. "Doctors told me it will just take a summer. It turned out it took my fall semester." But that time off didn't hurt Rashiya.
After winning her battle with breast cancer she's won the right to pick up her cap and gown that she'll wear this Saturday, when she accepts her degree from SIU. "I am so glad to be graduating. I felt like I was an undergraduate forever. It lingered on and it's time to move on." she says. Rashiya hopes to go on to law school. A goal that's in her grasps, for a young woman who's much wiser than her 23 years. "Most definitely check yourselves," Rashiya says. "Never think don't check yourself, or ignore something and think it's benign. Never be scared to go to the doctor."
Rashiya's active in raising breast cancer awareness. She tells young women her story, to let them know that early detection is key.