My name is Karen Williams, and I was diagnosed with Stage 2 T Breast Cancer on Christmas Eve in 2016. I had my annual mammogram the week before Christmas and was immediately called back for an ultrasound, biopsy, and MRI. Entering the holiday season with so many impending tests gave me anxiety. Trying to keep my spirits high and hide my fears from my family so that they could have a Merry Christmas, gave me the thought that I had to keep my “little secret” of a breast cancer diagnosis to myself. My family traditionally leaves West Virginia after Christmas Day and travels to Florida for a warm-weather vacation in Orlando. My Disney dream had turned into a disaster, and I personally felt a big responsibility to not “ruin” Christmas for everyone. The secret that I held in my heart, of a positive breast cancer diagnosis, was one I tried to protect until I felt the need to share the results with my husband. I finally got the courage to tell my husband. After I told him that I had cancer, the look of despair on his face and the immediate emotions of frustration and tears he expressed broke my heart. I begged my husband not to share the news with the children, but on Christmas morning, the whole family knew. He couldn’t hold my secret. The looks of loss on my family's faces broke my heart. I was the first in my family to have ever contracted breast cancer. There were many questions that we did not know. I became a strong influence in my family and assured all my family and friends that I was a warrior and was not giving up. I had faith that with God’s blessing and the skills of new medical techniques, I could become a survivor. This became my daily hope and prayer.
The holidays are a terrible time to become ill. The physicians and the doctor’s offices were closed, and nothing was going to be scheduled for me until the next year. I then began reading and researching everything that I could on breast cancer. All the while, I tried to maintain a calm demeanor. I realized that there was a deadly disease in my right breast. I had many uncertainties and did not know how fast the cancer would progress. I was frustrated and confused. I felt like I was diagnosed with a deadly disease and sent home for the holidays to deal with it.
Christmas Day came, and my family celebrated the holiday the best we could. My family was all packed up, and together we went to Florida. Through it all, I maintained an outward positive demeanor. I secretly suffered despair and called the Cancer Center daily. They patiently told me the local surgeon was on Christmas vacation and would contact me on his return. No one at that time could tell me what I had and what I needed to do. Following the surgeon's return, he sent me to a plastic surgeon and misdiagnosed the type of cancer that I had. I was told that I had a hormonal form of cancer. The frustration escalated, and I became proactive in selecting my care. I started reading everything that I could on breast cancer. I sought advice from medical professionals so that I could make informed decisions. The nurse practitioner at Family Care sat down with me for hours, helped me to collect my medical records, and sent my records to Cleveland Clinic.
The fear that I had dissipated. I was assigned to the number two breast surgeon in the country. I met with expert medical professionals who took the time to talk to me and inform me of the more aggressive form of cancer that I had. I was now able to make proper decisions. I selected to have a mastectomy and follow up with chemotherapy. The surgery went well, and the chemo was challenging but effective. During my time at Cleveland Clinic, I planned the 2017 Family Reunion Cruise. I was determined to make it, and I did. I had completed my chemo and lost my hair and tastebuds, yet I was well enough to get on the ship and enjoy every meal that was offered to me. My advice to all who travel this journey of breast cancer is to surround yourself with positive people who understand you and can encourage you. I learned that the diagnosis of breast cancer does not necessarily carry a death sentence. I learned the importance of monthly self-breast exams and annual mammograms. I learned that there is help with organizations like West Virginia Breast Health. I found comfort with the CAMC Cancer support groups. I was determined to become an ambassador of encouragement to help others who face breast cancer. I am now a five-year survivor and cherish each day I am blessed with. Breast Cancer is not the worst thing that ever happened to me. I now have a whole new source of friends and acquaintances that have enriched my life.
Don’t forget, this year, you can join Karen’s team in our annual Race for the Ribbon event on May 6th! When we asked Karen why she walks, she said this event is about much more than a race; it’s about bringing awareness to others about breast cancer, pushing for more research, and raising critical funds to assist those who have been diagnosed. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to come together and foster a community for all survivors.
To join her team, simply visit https://bit.ly/3Lg4iBE and register for the race. Once you’re there, select your participating category, then click “join team.” Karen’s team is “AKA/Links”