Baptist Health Paducah patient brings awareness to breast cancer in young women

Baptist Health Paducah. October 26, 2023

(PADUCAH, KY) Oct. 25, 2023 - Ashley Hayden, 31-year-old mom of three small children, is on a mission to raise awareness about breast cancer in young women. Despite the common misconception that breast cancer only affects older women, Ashley's story serves as a reminder that the disease can strike at any age.

“Breast cancer was just not something I would even remotely ever think about because, well, I am 31,” said Hayden. “Up until that point I always saw it as a 40 and over issue because no one ever talked about it being something that could happen in your thirties. However, I have learned that cancer has no age discrimination, it does not care. I have met so many women in my age bracket going through the same thing I am.”

Hayden’s fight against breast cancer began in February of this year; just 12 days after she turned 31. She was attending her annual doctor’s appointment when, at the last minute, she decided to ask about a raised spot on her right breast. To be safe, her primary care physician scheduled her for a mammogram where there was an incidental finding in Hayden’s left breast.

“Breast cancer does not always present as a lump in your breast; it can be many different things,” said Mindy Cartwright, Baptist Health Paducah Breast Imaging Navigator. “It could be skin changes, you could have thicker areas of the skin, almost like an orange peel feel that you can have to your skin and that’s not something you need to ignore. The size and shape of your breast could also change, a nipple retraction, there can be bloody discharge, So it’s not always just a lump in the breast.”

At the time of her diagnosis, Hayden had no knowledge of any family history of breast cancer. Balancing a full-time job and caring for her four year old twins and seven year old son, while undergoing treatment proved to be incredibly challenging. However, with the support of her care team, she successfully completed chemotherapy and underwent a double mastectomy with Kristen Williams, MD, Baptist Health Medical Group General Surgery, eliminating all traces of cancer. Hayden's next steps include radiation and reconstruction with Daniel Verbist, MD, Board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon specializing in breast reconstruction of Paducah Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

“Breast cancer in women under 40 is rare; approximately 4-5% of all new breast cancer diagnoses are in women under the age of 40,” said Dr. Williams. “The goal is to catch the cancer at an early stage, but unfortunately, younger women can be diagnosed at a later stage as they are not being regularly screened. Ashley’s case was unique because she was actually concerned about a change on the non-cancer breast, which then prompted a work up and her cancer was found.”

Hayden says she feels very blessed by her team at Baptist Health. “Mindy, the breast navigator, is amazing. She is always there to answer questions. I hope people know that if you have questions, there are people here you can ask. I had people telling me to go out of town for treatment, but once I had my team built here there was nowhere else I’d rather go.”

By sharing her story, Hayden hopes to encourage other young women to be proactive about their breast health and to seek medical attention if they notice any changes or abnormalities. If you notice a change in the size or shape of your breast, feel pain in your breast, have nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood) or have other symptoms, contact your doctor right away.