At age 30, Karissa Barber Ma was on top of the world. She had fallen in love and celebrated it with a big wedding. She and her husband had so much to look forward to. But then, suddenly, their wedding vows (“Through sickness and in health ...”) would be tested. Karissa felt a lump in her breast. She went to her gynecologist whose reaction was, “It’s certainly nothing.” And the odds were the doctor was correct. But every so often the unlikely event happens. In this case it was breast cancer in a young woman. The lump was getting bigger, so Karissa came back and her doctor ordered a mammogram, and then an MRI. Even then young Karissa felt no alarm. After all she was too young to develop breast cancer, right? Wrong. It can happen and it did happen to her. First a lumpectomy and then more extensive surgery and chemo. Karissa opted for aggressive treatment. She wanted to do battle.
I am happy to tell you, by seeking care at a world renowned cancer center and participating in leading-edge clinical trials for new medicines, Karissa is not only here six years later, she is eight months pregnant. The in-utero baby girl already has a name, Kayla. She is about to be a blessing for Karissa and her husband. They have been through so much.
Obviously, Karissa is not only fortunate to have survived, but also to have remained fertile. Preserving fertility when fighting cancer can be tough.
For most young women a lump on a breast will, in fact, be nothing to worry about. But your vigilance is vital. And be persistent. If you remain concerned, push for the tests, mammograms, and sometimes MRIs, to clearly tell whether the lump is a malignancy. Waiting can change, or end, your life.
I want to point you toward two interviews I have done that are very relevant. One is with Janell Sabol of Seattle, a young woman who learned she had breast cancer right after giving birth. See "A Young Mother's Breast Cancer Story" at http://goo.gl/CKX7Y . Another is the story of a young woman from Chicago, Holly Trandel, who dealt with a blood cancer as a teenager and then developed breast cancer shortly after she became engaged. Her doctors worked hard to preserve her fertility and her story of the science of “oncofertility” is an important one. Please see "Oncofertility: Fertility Preservation for Cancer Patients" at http://goo.gl/6X6zI
Hopefully these will never be your stories, but the stories of these women, and the information they want to share with you, are important to know, just in case.
About the author: Andrew Schorr is a medical journalist, cancer survivor and founder of Patient Power, a one-of-a-kind company dedicated to bringing in-depth information to patients with cancer and chronic illness. Audio and video programs, as well as transcripts, help patients make informed decisions to support their health in partnership with their medical team. Patient Power is at www.PatientPower.info and on Facebook. Schorr is also the author of “The Web Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis." http://www.websavvypatient.com/
Reviewed on August 25, 2011
by Maryann Gromisch
Edited by Jody Smith