By Brett Milam
Karen Smith was 50 when she was found she had breast cancer. Specifically, she found out just five days before Christmas in 2016.
While showering, she found a lump in her right breast.
“Not knowing what it was, I asked my husband what he thought. He said, ‘After two days, if there no change, we are calling the doctor.'”
By the 29th, she was in to see her primary care physician, who then redirected her to another doctor for the mammogram and sonogram.
“During my sonogram, the doctor came in and explained that my tumor was ‘squirrely,'” Smith said. “And that I would have to schedule a biopsy.”
The biopsy would happen on Jan. 4, 2017. The next day, she got the call from her doctor that it was breast cancer. She told the doctor “okay.”
“‘Did you think you would have breast cancer? You don’t seem shocked?,'” she said the doctor said. “And I said, ‘It was either going to be breast cancer or it was going to be something else. But it is okay, it’s all going to work out!'”
Smith said she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, triple negative and that she carries the cancer gene. She’s stage 4 because she has three small spots on her liver.
“No one in my family has a history of breast cancer,” she said.
Later that month during the week of January 23, she started chemotherapy.
“I have taken four types of chemo treatments since January of this year,” Smith said. “The goal was to finish chemo by June, but after some conversation with my oncologist and surgeon, we decided that more chemo would be the best route. I have completed 22 chemo treatments and still have 8 more to go.”
A typical day of treatment looks like this: Driving to the cancer center, which is 40 minutes from her home, a small farm in Williamsburg and bringing a family member or friend along in case she gets tired from the treatment.
“I am always greeted by the wonderful staff, nurses, and doctors that care for me,” she said.
Then it’s the checks on: blood pressure, weight and temperature and with her oncologist.
“We discuss where things are at, how I am doing, feeling, any questions I may have, if my counts are good enough for chemo today, etc,” she said. “Then I get started with chemo!”
Chemo takes several hours to complete and she goes through several bags of chemo, with each taking about 30 minutes.
Smith works with Women, Infants and Children in Clermont County and has for the last nine years. Prior to that, she worked with the Head Start program with Child Focus, Inc. She said she took the WIC job to continue to help families in the county.
“Her positive attitude is contagious, and I certainly admire her for it!” Marcella Ranieri, WIC Dietitian & CAN Co-Coordinator, said.
It’s that attitude she hopes to spread to others going through breast cancer.
“For each person that went through this for us I would only hope that my experience will help the next person diagnosed. Breast cancer research has come a long way with many more survivors than those who do not,” Smith said.
To that, Smith said her prognosis going forward is that the tumors are gone.
“Chemo has helped along with a positive attitude, prayers, love and support of friends and family,” she said. “Since I am triple negative and carry the gene, I will have a double mastectomy, total hysterectomy and possibly surgery on my liver where is showed a tumor.”
She added, “Our mission is to encourage and to show that there is hope even with breast cancer.”