Fourteen years go, Kara was diagnosed with breast cancer. After being in remission for some time, the cancer returned this past April, and Kara had four chemo infusions before starting radiation in September. She came to me with a vision of a photoshoot with her and her daughter, Deana. Although Kara has chosen not to photograph herself without hair, she wanted some special pictures with Deana which signified this part of her journey the second time around.
By sharing these photos and Kara’s story here, I hope to inform and also comfort those fighting cancer. We want it to bring courage to those who don’t feel the strength, and inspiration to someone who needs it but isn’t searching.
“July 1st, 2004 – I will never forget that day. It’s the day my husband and I heard those two words from my doctor… malignant cancer. At the age of 31, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’d never had a thought or concern in my mind, especially at such a young age. Immediately your mind starts racing with all kinds of questions and uncertainty. At that time, I had been married to my husband, David, for 13 years and our daughter, Deana, was just five. All I could think about was my family and wonder why this was happening to us. My diagnosis was Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), a non-invasive cancer. There were four malignant tumors all in the same breast. In my case, the recommended treatment was aastectomy followed by Tamoxifen, a hormone therapy, for five years. During surgery, a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy was performed. The biopsy came back negative along with clear margins. This news meant that the cancer had not spread and was all contained to one breast. Good News! Now I was ready to start the reconstruction process.
Over the next several months, David, Deana, and I would travel to U of M in Ann Arbor once a week to have saline injected into the tissue expander for the reconstruction process. David and Deana were with me at every appointment. We did it all together. The support of my family and friends was overwhelming. We were able to stay with my parents during all of these weekly trips. They were living in Flint, MI at the time. This was such a tremendous help, emotionally and financially. Being the one going through something like cancer is extremely scary, but I truly feel that it is even harder for loved ones. Such a feeling of helplessness. But, we did it! We got through this challenge! Now ready to move forward and put this behind us, but we never forgot.
Fast forward 13 years – September 2017. I was at my routine yearly visit to U of M. Exam and mammogram all come back negative for cancer. April 2018, during my morning routine, I saw a pea size lump sticking out of the outer side of my reconstructed breast. Same side as my mastectomy 13 1/2 years earlier. It must be a cyst…it can’t be cancer. My breast care team at U of M got me in the following week and performed an ultrasound, which was followed by a biopsy that same day. That following Monday I got the call from my Oncologist. It was cancer. I was diagnosed this time with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. This was a different type of cancer then my first time around. It was a more aggressive type that spreads. Once again, my mind starts racing with all kinds of questions and uncertainty. How? Why?
I definitely did not start out being as strong as I was the first time around. David was my rock, keeping me focused and helping me to not fall into that state of fear. He stayed strong for me, so he could be that support he knew I needed. During surgery to remove the tumor, a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy was performed to see if the cancer had spread. Fortunately, this breast cancer was found early. No spreading to lymph nodes and my margins were clear. However, being that this cancer was an invasive, aggressive type, my breast care team at U of M recommended chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy. Cancer had once again become a part of me and my family’s life. My first chemo infusion was scary and emotional. For me it was the unknowing. For David, it was the unknowing and the feeling of helplessness as he watched me being administered this poison. But, we did it together. I finished my four rounds of chemo in August. I will start radiation this month which will be followed by hormone therapy.
Through these challenging times, I have never felt that I was unlucky. Cancer didn’t choose me.
I actually consider myself fortunate that both breast cancers were found early. Will there always be a worry in the back of my mind that this cancer will return?? Of course. But, life goes on. This is my journey and I am thankful for my faith, family, friends, and church family who helped give me the support I needed.
Which now brings me to this photo shoot. I wanted an image to capture me and my family during this journey I wasn’t sure if I was going to be brave enough, but I knew Alekz was the one photographer I wanted. I already knew how talented she was, as she had photographed Deana’s senior pictures, but also experienced what a wonderful, kind, and generous person Alekz is as well. After I contacted Alekz, she responded to me by saying how honored she would be to document my journey. Our photo shoot was so amazing. Being so self-conscious without my hair, Alekz made me feel comfortable and beautiful. She captured moments of me and my family that we will have forever.
Thank you, Alekz, for going above and beyond what I had envisioned. These images will tell a little bit of our story when we look back and admire them. Thank you with all my heart!”
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