Between raising her two children with her husband Gino, managing a busy household and working full time, Peabody resident Karen Schrader, 47, didn’t normally take a lot of time for herself. But one night last September, while washing dishes, she realized that she hadn't had a screening mammogram in several years. With a history of benign cysts in her 20s and 30s, she knew she was overdue. She scheduled her appointment the next day at NSMC Union Hospital. The radiologist reading the mammogram discovered small calcifications the size of a grain of sand in her right breast and scheduled Schrader for a diagnostic mammogram at the Mass General/North Shore Breast Health Center for closer examination. A diagnostic mammogram provides additional angles and views of the breast beyond the two standard views taken in a screening mammogram. After the diagnostic mammogram, radiologist Claudia Reynders, M.D., ordered a stereotactic needle biopsy to determine whether the calcifications were cancerous.
“I’m a worrier by nature, and I was so afraid to get out of the car to have the procedure. I almost didn’t want to know if I had cancer,” says Schrader. “But then I met with Nancy Lee, R.N., the breast health navigator, who helped ease my anxiety and calm me down. She explained everything step by step, so I could handle it.”
Schrader was in New Hampshire with her family enjoying the fall foliage and a pumpkin festival when she got a call from her NSMC primary care physician, James Brown, M.D. “He said they had found cancer. I was petrified and immediately called , and again she calmed me down as we talked about the next steps,” she said.
Schrader had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) in her right breast—cancerous tissue that was fully contained in the breast and hadn’t spread. Further testing revealed that she also had LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ) in her left breast, a risk factor that would make her six to seven times more likely to develop cancer in her lifetime. She met with Mass General/North Shore breast surgeon, Jeanne Yu, M.D., to evaluate her options.
“I have a history of breast issues, and watched my mother and grandparents battle cancer. I wasn’t looking forward to constantly worrying about new cancer developing,” Schrader explained. “I knew I wanted both breasts removed with a double mastectomy.” Before committing to surgery, Schrader also went to a leading cancer hospital for a second opinion. There, the consulting surgeon wouldn’t recommend performing the double mastectomy because cancer hadn’t been found in her left breast. She chose to stay with Dr. Yu and Mass General/North Shore because they offered her the treatment option she wanted, close to home.
Schrader’s surgery came none too soon. Through examining her breast tissue following surgery, another cancerous tumor was found in the right breast. Because of the type of cancer found, Schrader has had to undergo two types of chemotherapy after her surgery and she’ll be taking tamoxifen, a drug that helps prevent breast cancer recurrence, for five years. Schrader has one more surgery to go—breast reconstruction with Mass General/North Shore plastic surgeon Catherine Hertl, M.D.—after she completes her chemotherapy.
“It’s been a little tough, losing my hair and all, but I’m taking some time for myself,” said Schrader.” But now, I’m here and I’m on a mission to make a difference.”
She’s encouraging all her friends to have an annual screening mammogram. “I woke up in my hospital room in November and heard the news reports about the proposal to have women wait until they are 50 years old to get their first mammogram. At first I thought my anesthesia was making me foggy,” laughed Schrader. “If I had waited until I was 50 to get a mammogram, I might be dead. Women in their 40s get breast cancer too and need to have regular mammograms.”
She is also rallying her family and friends to build awareness of cancer and raise money for local treatment by walking in the 20th North Shore Cancer WALK.To donate to the North Shore Cancer WALK, visit northshorecancerwalk.org or call 866-296-6900.