Portrait of Kari from Tennessee, associated with Stage 2B, on a promotional graphic for learnlooklocate.com

Kari’s Battle with Stage 2B Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Breast Cancer

“Don’t underestimate the importance of knowing your body, knowing your normal, and advocating for yourself”

The First Signs: A Wake-Up Call in the Shower

Like so many other young women diagnosed with breast cancer, I found the tumor myself. I was in the shower when I first noticed a different firmness or thickening in the lower outer quadrant of my right breast where I had been feeling persistent pain in the previous months. Originally I thought it was due to hormonal fluctuations and my monthly cycle, but its persistence beyond that caught my attention. Unfortunately, it was a long and rocky road to diagnosis, but I’m so thankful my body let me know there was something wrong and continued to guide me to my diagnosis.

The Struggle for a Diagnosis

On October 1st, 2019, after being completely brushed off, I had the ultrasound I so desperately pushed for despite the doctor’s prominent lack of concern. A cyst or two was found as well as what she said was probably just a fibroadenoma due to my age, 35 at the time. I was quickly told to stop worrying and go live my life. She said if I really wanted to follow up, I could get it checked out in another 6 months to see if there were any changes.

After a couple of months of waiting and monitoring at home, I was almost positive the area of concern was getting bigger and more defined. During this time, the pandemic had hit which made getting medical attention even more difficult.

Fighting for Recognition

I went back for a second ultrasound in early April of 2020. This confirmed what my gut already knew. It had indeed gotten larger, but the doctor remained unconcerned and brushed me off once again. She said if I really wanted a biopsy, I should wait until after the pandemic was over to pursue further testing. I quickly stopped taking her advice and started to advocate fiercely for myself. After weeks of pushback and during the hight of the pandemic, I was finally able to schedule a breast biopsy.

The Diagnosis: Facing Reality

Eleven days later, on May 11th, 2020, I got the news that I had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 36 with stage 2B ER/PR+ invasive ductal carcinoma. I had 4 rounds of dose dense AC chemotherapy with no definite response. The tumor had not shown any signs of shrinking, so I quickly opted for surgery. I chose a unilateral mastectomy with aesthetic flat closure. I had 9 axillary lymph nodes removed, 3 of which tested positive for macrometastases. I also had a positive deep margin at my chest wall after surgery and lymphovascular invasion. After recovering from my mastectomy, I completed 12 more rounds of chemotherapy, 3 of Taxol and 9 of Abraxane, in addition to undergoing 33 sessions of proton therapy.

Navigating Treatment and Discovering Tools for Empowerment

I’ve been on endocrine therapy since June of 2021 using Zoladex and Exemestane. Because I asked to do the Breast Cancer Index test while in my second year of taking these medications, I now know that my journey with endocrine therapy doesn’t need to go beyond 5 years. This was a very pleasant surprise as I was originally encouraged to stay on hormone blockers for 10 years due to my high risk of recurrence. So I’m currently almost halfway through endocrine therapy and that feels like an accomplishment. I’ve also been using a circulating tumor DNA test called Signatera to closely monitor for recurrence.

Survivorship: Living with Confidence and Choice

I strongly recommend both of these tests if you’re eligible and finding any other tools and resources to help keep you informed, empowered, and at peace with the decisions you make along the way during your journey of survivorship. It’s not easy, but these tools and resources, amongst other things, are invaluable in guiding you on the right path and letting you live your life with more confidence, more choice, and less worry.

Learn Look Locate: Empowering Your Journey

This story is a testament to the importance of knowing your body, advocating for yourself, and utilizing available resources to navigate the uncertain waters of breast cancer. At Learn Look Locate, we stand by all those who face similar battles. Our platform offers a wealth of information and support for breast cancer survivors, from early detection to ongoing treatment strategies. We invite you to explore our resources, survivor stories, and medical advisors’ insights. Together, we can foster a community of strength, knowledge, and empowerment.