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Karla - Bodies of Courage Bodypainted Cancer Survivors

My mom died of breast cancer August 8, 1996 at the age of 64.
It was a shock to me because I thought I would have my mom for a few more years at least.
Her cancer had metastasized to her brain, lungs, bones and liver.
She was diagnosed in June 1996, but had it for perhaps a year or more.

I was just about to turn 36 and my only daughter was 16 months old at the time.
She and I spent that summer back up in Illinois as I was trying to care for my mom.
My mom had seen my daughter only one time before that summer.

Upon my return to Florida after her death, my doctor recommended I get mammogram’s and I did.
I had a scare after a couple of years, where they found fibrous tissue and had to check it further.
I continued to get my mammos through 2003.
I hated getting those mammogram’s though and in 2004 I skipped my annual mammogram.
As a single (divorced) mom, I was just too busy as well.
But the next year, in 2005, a little voice told me to go get my mammogram.
In March 2005, something was discovered.
I received a biopsy and the diagnosis: breast cancer on the left side.
I was 44. 20 years younger than my mom was when she died of it.
I wasn’t menopausal, though my mother had been.
Shock and bewilderment. I had no symptoms nor felt any lumps.
My daughter had just turned 10 years old.

I had a bi-lateral mastectomy at Moffitt.
The original surgeon I saw recommended I only have the diagnosed side, the left breast, removed.
I decided to consult with Moffitt, and the surgeon recommended both, which is what I believed I should do.
Afterward, cancer was indeed on the right side after all, even though it hadn’t shown on the mammogram.

On the left side, I had 3 different types: invasive ductal and ductal in situ and lobular.
After the initial surgery, I had a lymph node dissection.
2 of my 4 sentinel nodes were affected. I was labeled a Stage IIB.

In August 2005, nearly 9 years to the day my mother died, I began A/C chemotherapy for 4 months.
My reconstruction had to be put on hold.

I lost all my hair and spent $400, that I didn’t have, on a wig to look as normal as possible because the free wig from the American Cancer Society just didn’t look real enough! I was determined to not let cancer “show”!
Being a single mom with no family and a young daughter, doing chemo was hard.
But my daughter and I both are stronger and closer for it.

One last surgery to finally finish in June 2006 with nipple reconstruction.
I hoped the areolas wouldn’t fade. I was told somedo, some don’t. Mine did.
So my journey isn’t done quite yet.

Last October, Affinity Body Solutions offered free areola tattooing to breast cancer survivors.
I have a touch-up appointment, hopefully the last, this Saturday!

My message to others is: get your mammogram’s!
If you’re too young for insurance to pay for it, make sure to at least do breast self exam.

And don’t give up. Don’t give in to fear.
Don’t let fear paralyze you. A year before my mom was diagnosed, she had told me about having discharge.
She never went to the doctor to get it checked.

I have a photo of the first time my mom met my daughter.
My daughter was 6 months old. My mother was overjoyed to see her, hold her.
But they never got the chance to get to know one another.

Yes, it’ s been hard, and scary and there has been loss, but I’m here and I get to enjoy my daughter and see her grow up and realize her dreams!
I just hope she will not have to go through what I did, what my mother did and others have.

One of the most important events during my experience was meeting Peggie Sherry of Faces of Courage.
I found one of her dinner/speaker nights at FOC in February 2006 through a friend of mine, went by myself (scary because I was feeling so vulnerable) and it was so wonderful.
I never felt more alone and isolated than when I went through the surgeries and chemo as a single mom with only my 10 year old daughter, except perhaps when I lost my mom in ’96 to her breast cancer, and FOC and Peggie were there lifting me up, and I didn’t feel so alone anymore.

I am forever grateful and can’t thank Peggie enough for everything she and FOC do for cancer survivors.
In fact, one of the psychics she had there that night told me that I wasn’t alone; I had many guardian angels looking out for me, more than most people.
She told me this just as I met her, even before I sat down with her.
That night and Peggie were and are, such a gift!

Thanks for letting me share my story!