Carrie Ann Koester never gave cancer a second thought, that is, until her gynecologist suggested she undergo a screening mammogram due to her family's health history.
The mother of two breathed a sigh of relief after she learned the test showed no cancer, but the following year, her mammogram results were anything but normal. "I had stage I cancer in my left breast and Paget's disease, a rare form of cancer that affects the nipple, in both breasts," she said.
Doctors performed a bilateral mastectomy and prescribed a course of hormone therapy. Unfortunately, she developed side effects to the drug, including crushing migraine headaches, joint pain and fatigue.
About the same time, she underwent the first of three attempts at breast reconstruction. Twice Carrie Ann developed a severe postoperative infection that required days of hospitalization, IV antibiotics and removal of the implants. "After nine surgeries, I felt I had enough," recalled Carrie Ann, now 41, who decided against further breast reconstruction.
Carrie Ann soon fell into a depression, but she was determined to recover for the sake of her young children. "At the time, my daughter was 3 and my son was 15. It was their faces that made me want to fight and get through it," she said.
Now her life is back to normal. This past May marked the 5th anniversary of her recovery from breast cancer. Since she had to forego the oral hormone therapy, her breast surgeon and oncologist monitor her blood every three months for signs of a recurrence of the disease. Carrie Ann credits timely screening and early detection for saving her life.