Andrea Erion, a 28-year-old catering event manager at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center, was focused on building her career, on her future, and on enjoying the South Florida lifestyle that was so different from her native Iowa.

Then, her life zigged when she thought it would keep zagging.

She felt pain in her breast and visited her gynecologist. Before she knew it, she was a cancer patient. Stage 4—the worst stage. It had spread to her rib bone already.

“You automatically think, ‘Oh my God, am I going to live? Am I going to die?’” Erion says at Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, where her gynecologist arranged for her to meet with doctors.

She was flooded with fears and questions—What did I do to get sick? Because I eat right, I exercise, I’m young, I’m healthy.

She had her sister shave her head before her chemo and radiation therapy—that way, at least she could control when she lost her hair.

But she quickly realized that no matter the search powers of the Internet, no matter the cancer info she could amass, her fate was going to be in the hands of others. It became a test of trust. And she could sense on a gut level—in the warm way her doctors spoke, in their attention to detail—that they were more than just professionally involved. They were emotionally vested, too.

Dr. Louise Morrell, the first doctor with whom she met at Lynn Cancer Institute, asked how Erion was doing. “I’m good, I’m good,” she responded.

Then Murrell asked again, “No—how are YOU doing?”

Erion takes a stuffed pink flamingo to all her appointments—it’s a gift from her mom. Her medical oncologist, Dr. Jane Skelton, noticed a tear in it one day and stayed on Erion to fix it.

It wasn’t so much a quest to wipe out the disease as it was a quest to make sure that Erion triumphed.

Many women with breast cancer are faced with a stark decision in which they seemingly have no good option: Have just the lump removed and stand a higher risk of recurrence, or have your breast, or breasts, removed. Erion’s choice was nearly a toss-up, but she said the doctors guided her well. They listened to her concerns, gave her all the information and left it up to her.

More than two years out from her diagnosis—after the radiation and chemo treatments sometimes left her too tired to even watch TV—a strong, cheerful Erion says that the good thoughts are in a constant struggle with the bad.

“What would a normal 30-year-old be worrying about in her life right now?” she says. “Would this be something that she would be concerned about? And it sucks that, no, it’s not a normal thing that somebody would have to worry about. But it is my reality.”

Certain clichés now ring true. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Do what makes you happy. Life’s too short. That guy who just cut her off? Definitely not worth the road rage.

Then she considers the most important factor of all: “I’m alive—so I definitely look at the positives.”

To continue reading, pick up our February issue...