Karen Robertson used to say she had a “little bout” of breast cancer.
However, now that she has had some time apart from the illness, she realizes how fortunate she really was.
Robertson, a Salem native, was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer 11 years ago at the age of 52. She hesitated to tell her family, but she wasted no time seeking treatment. She took charge of her own health, something that she says is crucial, as one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
As soon as she received the call from her radiologist, she set up an appointment with her family doctor, and two weeks later, she was in surgery for a lumpectomy.
“It’s not the thing you want to hear,” Robertson said. “Most people would have just had a radiation oncologist, but I demanded to have medical oncologist. I wanted to take control of it.”
She began having yearly mammograms when she turned 40, but 2004, the year she was diagnosed, wasn’t an easy year. Her brother had passed away two months earlier, which led her to postpone her mammogram once.
Thankfully she went in for one when she did. She was diagnosed with two types of cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ and infiltrating ductal carcinoma, which are both notoriously aggressive, and in her case, couldn’t be felt by a self-check. Her doctors told her if she had waited six more months to get screened, the cancer could have spread through her entire body.
She didn’t have to go through chemotherapy, but she did have 34 radiation treatments over the course of six weeks at Roanoke Memorial Hospital, along with taking daily medication.
Now, Robertson is an active member in the local Susan G. Komen, the largest breast cancer foundation in the United States.
For a few years after Robertson was diagnosed, it was recommended that she have mammograms every six months. Now that she has been in remission for a while, she gets them every year.
“That is the scariest time of my life,” Robertson said. “I was so scared to go back to once a year.”
More than anything, she wants to encourage women to not only have yearly mammograms, but perform self-checks as well.
Robertson has lost several friends to breast cancer. However, her struggle with the disease has also encouraged several of her friends to go get screened, something she says makes the battle worthwhile.
Robertson said anyone can help the cause. She said volunteering is important, but encouraging others to go get screened is essential.
“Contact the local chapter of Susan G. Komen,” Robertson said. “Volunteer. Talk to friends, daughters, sisters—whoever. Ask if they’ve had their mammogram, and tell them you’ll go with them. If you care about somebody, you need to tell them to take care of themselves.”
Robertson is optimistic that one day, the world will beat breast cancer. Until then, finding it early, and quickly seeking treatment, is the next best thing.
“I want to see breast cancer go away completely,” she said. “Early detection is the key. You’ve got to take care of you. You need to take care of you so you can be there for your family.”