44 year-old breast cancer survivor: "What happened to a year of my life?"
Last weekend, Soldier Field turned pink to support breast cancer survivors and fighters, including Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital patient Kara Walsh and her oncologist, Dr. Sandeep Chunduri. Prior to kick-off, patients unfurled a ceremonial pink ribbon, and during halftime, Kara and Dr. Chunduri joined other patients and care teams in the on-field Punt, Pass, and Kick competition. Following the competition, Kara rang the bell to celebrate being finished with treatment.
As a 44-year-old working mom with two young children, Kara Walsh was always on the go. A breast cancer diagnosis last September stopped her in her tracks.
"When I look back now," she recalls, "I wonder: what happened to a year of my life?"
Kara felt a pain in her breast, and she knew something wasn't right. Her first ever mammogram was the one that detected her cancer.
Initially, Kara was optimistic. She had been diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, and the kind she had was small and slow growing. Following her lumpectomy, Kara took a precautionary test to see how likely her cancer was to reoccur. The results were disappointing and alarming. There was a 1 in 4 chance that her cancer would come back.
"It was a big blow," Kara remembers. Her care team recommended additional treatment - chemotherapy and radiation.
Through it all, Kara had been open with her family about her diagnosis and treatment. When she told her 10-year-old son about the side effects, he was really concerned about his mom losing all her hair. Kara decided to try the Dignicap, a scalp cooling system for cancer patients that minimizes hair loss during chemotherapy treatment.
"I was able to keep 90% of my hair, and today, you would never know that I went through breast cancer just a few months ago," Kara explained. "I didn't think about how much you appreciate your hair, and how much even a small amount of hair loss affected me. I lost my eyelashes, eyebrows, and some of my hair, and I was a mess."
It was hard for her kids to see her tired and nauseous after her treatments, and Kara did her best to protect them.
"I had to stay positive for my kids, for my family," Kara explained. "I have such a great group of friends. They knew everything - every feeling I had. I had to talk about it, and to cry sometimes. But I couldn't do that in front of my kids and my husband because I needed to be strong."
Six months after her last treatment, Kara's mammogram came back clear, her energy is back, and she's feeling great.
Advocate Health Care's Breast Surgeon, Dr. Heidi Memmel, participated in the coin toss and handed it over to Staley the Bear to kick off the game. The game is a tribute to honor breast cancer survivors and fighters and raise awareness for the disease that develops in one in eight women during her lifetime.
"Thank you to the Bears and Advocate Health Care for bringing breast cancer awareness to our fans this month. Breast cancer is often preventable, and knowing the risk factors, like family history and lifestyle factors is important," said Dr. Memmel. "It's also important to get regular screening mammograms, as this is the one exam that we know can save lives from detecting breast cancer early."
One in 8 women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives. That's why it's important to schedule a mammogram, which can spot cancer up to three years before a lump or other symptoms of breast cancer could be detected. At Advocate Aurora Health, you can get mammogram results the same day, providing peace of mind or getting you on the path to life-saving treatment. Learn more about breast cancer screenings and schedule a mammogram by visiting aah.org/breasthealth.