If I could go back and see myself then, I’d tell her it’s going to be all right.
Miki Yakata (30), a former member of SKE48, said looking back five years ago. She was a member of “SKE48”.
After undergoing surgery for breast cancer, Yakata is now living each day to the fullest, aiming to live 10 years after the surgery, which is said to be a complete cure for the disease.
Yakata was 25 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was diagnosed as a member of the so-called “AYA (Adolescent and Young Adult) generation,” which refers to people from adolescence to their 30s. Recently, AYA cancers have been attracting attention, and support and countermeasures are being promoted, but at the time, it was different.
I first learned about the AYA generation when I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and there was very little information about AYA cancers, so I felt overwhelmed with anxiety at times.
This lack of information was the catalyst for Yakata to share her own experience.
At first, I thought that sharing my story of breast cancer would be meaningless. But now I am actively sharing my story in the hope that it will be of some use to those battling cancer in the AYA generation.
At the time, Yakata had graduated from SKE48 and was expanding her activities to pursue her next dream. One day, news broke that Mao Kobayashi had passed away from breast cancer, and many people mourned her passing.
“When I heard the news of Mao Kobayashi’s death, I was surprised to learn that even young people can get cancer. Until then, I had never thought about the possibility that I might get cancer, and I had no sense of urgency at all.
Just to be sure, I did a self-check and felt something obviously hard on my fingertips. But he didn’t feel like going to the hospital right away.
I knew immediately that it was a lump. I didn’t think I was sick, but I was getting worried that it might be breast cancer, so I talked to people around me and they said I should go to the hospital, so I went.”
I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. Although she was upset, she was positive.
“I thought, ‘If it is early stage breast cancer, it can be cured.’ I thought it would be cured.”
However, as she proceeded with the tests leading up to the surgery, her cancer became more and more serious.
I learned that the results of each test were not good, and I was finally diagnosed with stage 3A. To be honest, there were times when I thought, ‘I’m going to die,’ and I cried when I was alone. But I changed my mind when I realized that I had only done a fraction of what I wanted to do. Even if I don’t get breast cancer, death will come someday. Rather than worrying that I might die, I thought that the worst thing I could do would be to die without being able to do what I wanted to do. While undergoing treatment for breast cancer, I began to think about doing as many of the things I wanted to do in the rest of my life as possible.
She decided to live her life to the fullest after her breast cancer. She also positively tackled her breast cancer treatment. However, she was faced with a major decision before her breast cancer surgery. Yakata underwent surgery and anticancer drug treatment. Before the treatment began, the doctor explained the effects of the treatment on her body and she get really scared.
The doctor explained to me, ‘Anticancer drug treatment may cause menstruation to stop, and for some people, menstruation may even stop. But even if I had stayed free of breast cancer, I don’t know if I would be able to have children in the future. Rather than worrying about the future, I thought I should focus on breast cancer treatment now, so I decided to undergo anticancer treatment.”
Stage 3A breast cancer requires the total removal of the breast, and for 25-year-old Yakata, it was all she could do to accept the fact. Before the surgery, the doctor suggested breast reconstruction.
“At first, I thought about having breast reconstruction,” she said. I wondered whether I should have breast reconstruction with implants or autologous tissue, and I gathered information and talked to people who had actually undergone reconstructive surgery. The more I researched, the more I wondered, ‘Would I be satisfied with an artificial breast?’ I also learned that reconstruction is not always successful and that implants are not permanent and need to be replaced after 10 to 20 years. Even if I lost one breast, I would have no trouble living, and I can do the things I want to try in the future without it. So I decided not to have reconstruction.”
Breast cancer treatment involves multiple considerations about one’s future as a woman, and the emotional burden is significant for cancer patients of the AYA generation. In addition, the side effects of anticancer drugs were taking their toll on Yakata.
“I was new to treatment, so I was worried about what symptoms I would experience and whether I would be able to work while undergoing treatment,” she said.
“The summers in Nagoya are very hot, and the start of treatment in that environment was a difficult time for me, as it was easy to get sick,” she recalls.
I lost my hair as a side effect of the anticancer drug. I was told about the side effects of the anticancer drug before I started the treatment, and since I was aware of the side effects, I thought I could just wear a wig and not worry so much about the hair loss. However, my skin tingled more during the process of hair loss than the hair loss, and the sweat from my scalp increased, making my scalp smell really bad. I was worried that people around me might smell the odor, and this made me not want to approach or meet people. There was a time when I didn’t want to be around people or see them.”
There were times when she felt stressed because she could not find a wig that suited her.
At first I tried several inexpensive wigs on the market, but I couldn’t find one that suited me. However, medical wigs are very expensive and not something you can easily afford. I consulted with people at Appearance Care and went through a lot of thought and error, and then I met a person from a non-profit organization that makes wigs through a program and learned that they can be made at a lower cost than medical wigs, so I was able to make and use a wig that fit my head while I was fighting the disease. I thought, ‘You can’t know about these things unless you experience them. I believe that many people are suffering from hair loss caused by anticancer drugs, but not many people know much about wigs. I learned the importance of “Caring for Ones Appearance” and felt that it needs to be developed.
Caring for Ones Appearance is not for cosmetic purposes, but to compensate for changes in appearance that occur as a result of cancer treatment and to alleviate the patient’s distress. The transmission of the importance of appearance care by arrowheads who have actually experienced it would encourage further enhancement.
Currently, the patient undergoes annual checkups and continues to receive hormone therapy in an effort to make a full recovery. Her progress is good, but she is still troubled by the side effects associated with hormone therapy.
Hot flashes,” she says. Sometimes my hair gets wet with sweat during photo shoots. People who don’t know it’s a side effect of hormone therapy sometimes ask me, ‘Why are you sweating so much? I’m turning 30, which is generally considered the age when women tend to change their physical condition, so I sometimes feel stressed, but I try not to take it too seriously, thinking that my body may be changing due to my age.
Yakata says that her view of death changed after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, death, which had seemed so far away, suddenly felt very real. I realized that life would be over in the blink of an eye and that what I was experiencing was only a fraction of what I had been able to experience, and from then on, I wanted to do anything that interested me right away. The first thing I started doing was to live alone. I moved out of my parents’ house and started living alone when my anticancer drug treatment ended. At first, my parents were against it, but now they support me. Now that I live alone, I am responsible for taking care of my health, so I have started cooking with health in mind.
Yakata, who survived breast cancer and is now taking on a wide range of work as a voice actor and TV personality, hopes to contribute to cancer support for the AYA generation.
I am invited to cancer-related events as well as to work, and I hope to support those who are fighting the same disease.
It is said that one out of every two people will develop cancer. The government is focusing on raising awareness of cancer among the AYA generation, calling for early detection and early treatment. Yakata’s sharing of her own experience will be a source of hope for the AYA generation battling cancer.
Interview and text： Eri Yoshizawa (Pharmacist / Medical Journalist)