A Breast Cancer Survivor's Story
October 28, 2019
October. The month we honor those who survived and those who have been affected by breast cancer. The cancer that is estimated each year to have over 220,000 women in the United States being diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 women die. Mammography has great potential to saves lives. Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to sit down with local breast cancer survivor, Karen Juelfs. We dedicate this blog of her story in hopes that it will inspire woman to get and continue to get their yearly mammograms as we know early detection saves lives.
How she found out?
Karen was always faithful about getting her yearly mammogram since she was 40 years old. The day she found out, started like any other day. She wasn’t scared or worried to go in for her mammogram, after all she had been getting them for 20 years – and nothing had been found. Karen went in July 2016 just as she usually did. This year, however, a lump was detected. “I was devastated. I mean I was just … it was so scary. You know, I have never had anything like this before,” Karen stated. She had no cause for concern before this moment. There were no warning signs or big red flags indicating she was going to find out she had cancer when she went in for her mammogram.
What happens after they find a lump in your breast?
When they found the lump, they immediately scheduled an ultrasound to determine if it was a fluid filled cyst or if it was solid. In Karen’s case, it was solid. She remembers all of the emotions from when she just found the lump, stating “It was very hard for me, I just broke into tears. It was just day in and day out because you never knew what was going to happen.” After they determined what the lump was, they waited about a week before going in for a biopsy to see what type of cancer she had, and how far along the cancer was. Throughout this waiting period, Karen stressed how important it was for her to stay positive. She knew that she couldn’t let the fact she had cancer ruin her life or mindset. However, it was hard to keep that positive mindset after she received the results from her biopsy, which confirmed she had a very invasive form of breast cancer.
Karen didn’t start chemotherapy until that September 2016. She started her treatment by coming in every week for a cat scan and bone scan of her entire body along with a chest X-ray to ensure that there were no other cancers or other problems. Karen’s medical team created a treatment plan and arranged a meeting with the surgeon for her. The surgeon was the one who informed her that she had the “dangerous kind,” otherwise known as the Her2-positive, hormone receptor-positive invasive breast cancer. However, it was only at stage one because it was caught early enough. Thanks to Karen being religious about coming in every year for mammograms, the surgeon gave her an 80 percent chance of being cured.
Karen’s Journey to Recovery:
Karen remembers that when she first started chemo, she had so many mixed feelings. After she had met with the surgeon, Karen immediately picked out a wig, explaining that “some woman chose to go in there bald, but I just wasn’t one of those women.“ Medical staff had told her patients typically start losing their hair 14 days after the first chemo treatment. “And I did. I was in the shower and I started getting piles of my hair in my hands. And I knew, as much as I hated it, I just had to shave the rest off and be done with it.”
After shaving her hair off, Karen expresses how scared she was for what was to come. “… and you wonder what the future is going to hold – what’s this chemo going to be like, what’s it going to do to me?” For many patients, as chemo treatments progress, they get sicker. But for Karen, she was fortunate enough to not have extremely severe side effects.
Karen started her treatment with 12 weeks of chemo, once a week. After the 12 weeks of chemo, the medical team performed another mammogram and ultrasound and discovered the tumor had shrunk the way they wanted it to. After about a month, they performed surgery to remove the tumor and determine if the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
After waiting a week and a half after surgery, the pathologist walked into her room with the best news ever - she was 100 percent cancer-free! The doctor recommended six weeks of daily radiation to make sure all her cells were clear of cancer and to decrease her chance of the cancer coming back in that breast.
Throughout all of Karen’s chemo treatments, she still managed to work four days a week. “It wasn’t always easy, but you just have to keep going.” Karen said. She did have to take a few weeks off after her surgery because she needed time to heal and rest.
Today, Karen is 100 percent cancer free. That doesn’t mean she hasn’t have a scare or two after being declared cancer free. One day she was doing a self-breast exam and noticed that another lump had formed on her breast. She immediately called in to get an appointment to get it checked out. When she explained over the phone what it felt like, the doctors weren’t terribly concerned because after surgery, scar tissue can build up and create a lump. The tests confirmed that the lump was not cancerous. Every six months, Karen has a mammogram to ensure that the cancer hasn’t come back.
Karen stresses the importance of getting a mammogram done yearly, regardless if you have insurance or not. HRMC now offers free mammograms year-round for women in need. HRMC’s We’ve Got You Covered program provides free mammograms for women ages 40 and older or under age 40 with a high risk, who have not had a mammogram for one year and does not have insurance/insurance doesn’t cover.
A mammogram, in Karen’s words, is “not scary”, claiming her mammogram saved her life. If you are one of those women who complain of it hurting, Karen would like to remind you that “It only takes a couple of seconds, and any hurting you could experience will not even compare to what you would go through if you have cancer.” So please, schedule your mammograms today by calling 605-353-6246 or at www.huronregional.org/mammo. A little discomfort today could save you from the impact of a cancer treatment in the future.
Listen to Karen's story and informtion about early detection from HRMC's mammography technologist Ann Van Winkle on these Well One Connection On-Air shows:
Part 1: https://www.performance-radio.com/episode/well-one-oct-14th/
Part 2: https://www.performance-radio.com/episode/well-one-connection-oct-21st/
Back to News Listing | Subscribe to News Alerts | Back to Blogs