In November 2022, Katie Strobel, a young mother of three, was excited about life. Her husband was wrapping up his medical school residency and they were preparing to move to a new state where he had a job. “We were excited to have a paycheck and be able to live our lives with our kids,” she said. “And that all exploded when I found out I had breast cancer.”
Katie was diagnosed with stage 4 (metastatic) inflammatory breast cancer. “Nov. 14 will forever be the day we found out I had cancer. It’s one of those memories that plays on repeat in my head,” she said. Suddenly, the family’s move was off. They needed to stay where they were, close to family who could help and Katie’s doctors. “We went from this dream we’ve always had, of my husband having stability in his job and being done having kids and we were ready to just grow up with our family. And suddenly we were in this terrifying spot where it became ‘how long is mom going to be a part of this?’”
Katie had four months of intensive chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy. “I didn’t think of it as losing my breasts. I had loved ones concerned it would be a huge adjustment or a hit to my womanhood,” Katie said. “But to me, my breasts were just a small casualty to removing this nasty disease that has turned my life upside down.”
Prior to undergoing her surgery, Katie had a tata-to-my-tatas party. She invited her close friends, and everyone dressed in pink. There were pink ribboned balloons and breast-shaped sugar cookies. “I was in a room with people who were going to love me with or without breasts. They just wanted me to stay alive. My boobs fed my three children. I held each baby close to me and shared something special with them,” she said. “They did exactly what they were supposed to do.”
When Katie walked into surgery, she viewed it as a celebration. “I caught people off guard when I showed up for surgery,” she said. “Here I was, 28 and thrilled to have my breasts removed and be completely flat.” Katie had a scar from armpit to armpit. “Because I have inflammatory breast cancer, the cancer wasn’t just in my breasts, it was spreading through a rash in my skin,” she said.
But Katie woke up from surgery with something else – she felt free. “I literally and figuratively had such a weight lifted from my chest,” she said. “This tumor that had been living in my chest was gone. My chest was wonderfully flat. I no longer had to look or feel a swollen, dimpled breast covered in a rash.” She was not thrown off by the three surgical drains or the scar.
“I learned from losing my hair that when you lose something that plays a large part of your external identity, it does not take away who you are as a person. I am still me. I feel stronger than ever. This cancer can take my boobs, but I refuse for it to take who I am,” said Katie. “I still have three kids to raise, even though I have stage 4 breast cancer. I’m married to the love of my life. I refuse to let this cancer stop my amazing life. Even with cancer, I am blessed.” Katie is currently undergoing radiation therapy.
Listen to Katie discuss breast cancer expectations versus reality on Komen’s Real Pink podcast.