Woman Who Was Denied a Mammogram Gets Double Mastectomy at 36, Learns She Has a Second Type of Cancer (Exclusive)

"As much as I hate it, and I'm crushed and frustrated, I am lucky to be in this situation," Philecia La'Bounty tells PEOPLE exclusively

Courtesy Philcia La
Courtesy Philcia La'Bounty

Philecia La’Bounty was feeling good. “I’d been cancer-free for 5 years and life was going awesome,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively.

“I got promoted, I was doing great at work," says La'Bounty, who first shared on social media in 2022 that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer after being denied a mammogram due to age and lack of family history. "My boyfriend and I were talking about babies and buying a home and really setting our sights on the future.”

But at one of her routine six-month scans in February, her oncologist saw something concerning. She ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound, followed by biopsies. In March she got the bad news: La'Bounty's breast cancer had returned.

"With the return of the same type of cancer, we decided it was just best to do a double mastectomy," says La'Bounty, who lives in Huntington Beach, Calif. "We didn't hesitate based on my last experience, when it grew so quickly in eight months."

Unfortunately there was an insurance roadblock. Since she now had a full-time job and was no longer on disability, her previous insurance had been canceled. But she wasn't going to wait on her mastectomy to deal with the bureaucracy.

RELATED: Woman Was Denied a Mammogram at Age 30 — but Ended Up with Stage 4 Breast Cancer: 'I Was Failed by the System'

"I'm like, whatever amount we have to pay, I'll figure it out," says La'Bounty, who does sales for a renewable energy company. "We won't go out to eat, I'll eat Top Ramen for a month, I don't care — I just need to get this done.” Ultimately they decided to pay out of pocket for insurance, which was $700 a month.

She scheduled the surgery for May 8, one day after her 36th birthday. The doctors took samples of her tissue to see make sure there was no additional cancer. But when she got her pathology results back a few weeks later, they found a different type of breast cancer.

“When I got the news, it was crushing,” says La'Bounty, who posted an emotional video earlier this week. “I know with stage four that this is a forever fight, but it had been so many years and I was feeling great," she tells PEOPLE. "And it didn't show up on the mammogram — which is another reason why I'm so thankful that my doctor pushed for it, and that my gut was like, you gotta do it.

The second type of cancer is HER-2 positive, an aggressive, but treatable, type of breast cancer. "Thankfully, my doctor assured me that the medications are very well tolerated," she says. "But unfortunately I will have to do IV chemo again."

RELATED: Woman Denied Mammogram at Age 30 Reveals Second Breast Cancer Diagnosis: 'Trying to Stay Positive'

“It was like a punch to the gut," she says. "I got most upset when I found out I had to do chemo again, because it just feels like such a massive step backwards."

She starts her first round of chemo on June 13 and will do 12 rounds before getting implants. Then she will have antibody infusions every three weeks for a year. 

She's grateful they caught it early. "The first thing my doctor said was, I'm so thankful you did the mastectomy because without it, your next scan was six months from now — and who knows what could have happened if you had waited."

As difficult as all of this is, La'Bounty says she knows it could be worse.

"There’s a lot of people in my situation that don't get the opportunity to fight a second time and I'm just trying to remember that and stay thankful that I do have this opportunity," she says. "As much as I hate it and I'm crushed and frustrated, I am lucky to be in this situation."

As for the mastectomy itself, she says, "Having nipples or perfect breasts does not define you as a woman or a human being. It wasn't even a thought in my mind. My partner doesn't care. My family doesn't care. If it's what I have to do to stay alive and fight, then we just do it."

La'Bounty points out that she still would not qualify for a mammogram at her age. "It's crazy that I'm fighting breast cancer for the second time, but our regulations for mammograms is still 40 years old," she says.

"The amount of people I get coming to me on social media to say, thank you, I was scared to go to the doctor, but I heard your story and I went and did my mammogram, it chokes me up."

In fact, many of her most popular videos are teary ones in which she opens up about the challenges in her life.

“I don’t want to be known for crying on the Internet!” she says jokingly.

"But if it scares one human into getting tested or one doctor into helping their patient get tested, then it's worth it. I'll take all of the mortifying, crying pictures and videos online — if that saves just one human being, it's worth it to me.”

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