Karen Horowitz’s story of survival begins in 1998, when a routine mammogram revealed a growth in one of her breasts. Karen had a successful lumpectomy to remove cancer, and a second lumpectomy six months later to remove further growth. Karen was relieved to be cancer-free, and was advised, as is standard, to have a mammogram every year from the date of her first mammogram.
A doctor’s intuition
Karen’s husband accompanied her to these yearly check-ups, but at her five-year mammogram, she told him to stay home, not to worry. He insisted on coming, and when radiologist Kent Min, M.D., ordered an ultrasound, she was glad to have him there. Dr. Min told her, “I can’t see it; I can’t feel it, but something isn’t sitting right.” Karen started to cry, and Dr. Min asked her husband to join them. He explained that the results were inconclusive, so after reviewing her history and previous test results, he suggested she have a biopsy to get further clarity. By the time Karen got home from her appointment, Dr. Min had contacted her oncologist Jeffrey Clark, M.D., and scheduled her biopsy for the following day.
The biopsy uncovered three invasive tumors deep within scar tissue left from the lumpectomy. Next, they scheduled bone scans and X-rays to find out if the cancer had spread. The technician on duty was a breast cancer survivor. She told Karen her story and held her hand through the series of tests and procedures. Karen was so grateful for the care she received; she wrote a letter to the MetroWest Medical Center thanking them.
In addition to Dr. Clark, Karen’s team included oncologist Jean Kim, M.D., surgeon Salwa Fam, M.D., and plastic surgeon Katherine Hein, M.D. Together with Karen; the team decided that she would have a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. Though the operation was difficult for Karen — she has difficulty with anesthesia and allergies to many pain medications — the surgeries were a success. Karen was grateful for all the extra care they took to accommodate her special needs. Following her surgeries, Karen also had chemotherapy, and again was pleased with the personal care and attention she received.
Ten years in remission
Karen went into remission, followed a regimen of postoperative medications and continued to come in for her scheduled yearly breast exams. Ten years after her mastectomy, Dr. Min started to see abnormalities in her other breast and requested several biopsies. While they didn’t discover cancer, he wasn’t taking any chances and ordered a breast MRI, mammogram and ultrasound every six months.
Karen swung into action. She called on her entire medical team: her oncologist, surgeons, physical therapist, gynecologist and primary care doctor. “I just said no. The stress of these tests is incredible; I just couldn’t do it anymore. So I pulled them together and told them I wanted a second mastectomy and reconstruction. I presented all my reasons, and they supported my decision completely.”
In 2013, Karen had her second mastectomy and breast reconstruction. This time, she felt more confident and empowered going into surgery. It was, after all, her choice, and even if they later found cancer in the pathology, everything would be gone. She’d never have another mammogram again.
Giving back in gratitude
Karen lives cancer-free, but she continues to be active in the MetroWest Medical Center’s cancer programs. She still attends support groups, as she has for 17 years, to support other cancer patients and process her ongoing journey, which includes issues like drug-related side-effects, lymphedema and new cancer-related developments in medicine.
She is also the co-chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council advocating for the community’s needs, and serves on the Cancer Committee, is a member of the Institutional Review Board and part of the Patient Experience Committee. Her active participation is a way to help ensure that other patients have the best experience possible. She’ll always be thankful to MetroWest Medical Center for her first mammogram, and her radiologist’s intuition that saved her life.