Karri’s Story: How a Routine Screening Made Her a Survivor

Entrepreneur, mother, artist, wife, athlete are all adjectives that describe Karri McFadden. As of February 2018, she added ‘breast cancer survivor’ to the list.

Like most women, Karri and her family of 9 (including 4 fur babies) were in the midst of living lives filled with their cups overflowing. Between building an equine veterinary clinic at her and her husband’s home in Lebanon while managing her own business, getting a screening mammogram wasn’t at the top of her priority list.

Although it’s difficult to put life on pause, Karri made an appointment to have her first mammogram close to her 43rd birthday at TriHealth’s Mary Jo Cropper Center for Breast Care.  Anne Kuritzky MD, a surgeon with the center and the TriHealth Cancer Institute, served as Karri’s doctor. Dr. Kuritzky suggests women should begin these screenings at 40-years-old as studies have shown this decreases breast cancer mortality.  

Karri describes the time following her initial mammogram as a period that moved very quickly. She had her screening mammogram on January 19, 2018 and within the week had another mammogram and underwent a biopsy. Then life changed.

Karri and her family were on their way home from Ohio University following a college visit with her daughter. They were in the car when she received a phone call from her doctor.

Karri remembers receiving this call and trying to remain calm. She jotted down notes and attempted to connect the dots between everything she was hearing. Karri was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in one of her breasts. For Karri, perhaps even more terrifying than cancer itself was the fact that she displayed no symptoms suggesting she was sick. Without her mammogram, Karri would not have received her diagnosis.

Dr. Kuritzky said screening mammograms, like the one Karri had, are intended for women without symptoms. In Karri’s case, Dr. Kuritzky said she would have had no reason to suspect anything was wrong with Karri if she hadn’t received this screening. Although this was not a factor for Karri, a good indicator of risk comes from family history. In Karri’s case, she did not have a strong history in addition to no obvious symptoms. Dr. Kuritzky encourages women to know their own bodies and to conduct breast self-exams for keeping track of any changes.

Dr. Kuritzky helped Karri catch her cancer early. Although Karri’s cancer was classified as stage 0, treatment was still necessary to prevent it from spreading or worsening.

“Early detection is crucial since the beginning stages of cancer are almost always curable,” Dr. Kuritzky says, “The further along the cancer is, the more difficult it is to treat.”

Over the next month, Karri was faced with the difficult decision of how to best manage her care. Given the breadth of her cancerous cells, she knew she needed to have one of her breasts removed. Karri eventually made a decision that seemed impossible. On February 19, 2018, she underwent a double mastectomy with no reconstruction.

Karri faced this difficult decision much like the rest of her cancer journey: with optimism and hope. “I can’t change the fact I had cancer but I can change my reaction to it and I have the option to learn how to love this,” she says.  

When asked Karri how she made this choice her answer was simple. “This decision was not one I labored over knowing my body had the propensity to create this.” She did not question that a mastectomy was her best option.

Karri’s primary business and hobby is horseback riding. She jokes that her mastectomy helped her look more athletic and said “honestly, who likes wearing a bra anyway?” Although she was able to find a small silver lining, she still needed to make decisions about treatment post-surgery.

Thankfully, Karri’s pathology report following her mastectomy showed she was cancer free. Despite this victory, it also indicated that her cancer was actually stage 1 instead of stage 0.  Since Karri’s cancer was more invasive than the biopsy showed, Karri made another difficult decision. With a 29 percent chance of remission, it seemed chemotherapy would be the next step.

Karri remembers this part of her treatment as by far the most challenging. “Chemo was the hardest part because I never felt sick when I had cancer. It’s amazing what chemo does to your body and how sick you get.”

She described each round as having varying, painful side effects. Currently, she’s battling swelling from a small blood clot in her arm and is treating it with lymphatic massage therapy. She completed her final round on June 4th and says she’s ready to feel better more than anything else.

Although every cancer journey is unique, Karri’s and all others have one thing in common: it’s a whirlwind. Over the course of only five months, Karri discovered cancer and beat cancer. All of the tests, tears, missed moments and pain were worth the eventual outcome of healing. “I try to learn from everything I do but it’s tough to feel positive when you have cancer; but, even in the darkest of times, there’s always light and something to be thankful for.”

If you’re like Karri and need to make time for a screening mammogram, TriHealth will help you fit it in. If you’re wondering about your level of risk, TriHealth can work with you on this too. Call 513 569 6777 or visit their breast care page to learn more.

Tags Cancer , Prevention and Early Detection , Women's Health