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Carlene’s Story: Breast Cancer Diagnosis Shaped a New Career Helping Others  

Carlene Thomas King was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2007. A real estate broker by trade, her experiences with breast cancer led her to an additional career, helping people with breast cancer. 

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was a real estate broker, but my experiences with breast cancer led me to a new career, and now I work in cancer care services. I’m in the community as a health worker, helping others walk through this, advocating and educating.

The older people in my family didn’t always share their medical history. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 75. After her diagnosis, we found out two of her sisters were later diagnosed with breast cancer.

In 2007, I felt a lump in my breast and went to my doctor, who did a clinical breast exam. She didn’t really feel anything but sent me for a mammogram. There was something, but they said they’d watch it for six months, and I said no, I won’t wait six months because my mother had breast cancer. The radiologist did not want to do an MRI, so I had to argue a bit to get it. I pushed back. And when the MRI results came back, the radiologist said, oh, there’s a lump.

After my results, I went to another imaging center to have the actual biopsy done. They were really good, because they prepared me even before we got the official report that it was probably cancer, and sure enough, it was.

From there I found a breast surgeon. She gave me the options of a bilateral mastectomy, having one breast removed, or a lumpectomy. I chose to do a bilateral mastectomy, to limit the risk of the cancer coming back as much as possible.

I did four rounds of chemotherapy, then had immediate reconstruction right after surgery. I think it lessened the stress of breast cancer because I never really lost my breasts. I at least had an image of them being there. In all, my treatment lasted from February to August 2008.

I’m the kind of person who will talk to anybody who’ll listen. While I was in treatment, I met a lot of women who were just really struggling, who were having to sell vehicles, struggling to pay rent, all of that, and they didn’t always know where to turn. I didn’t have any financial issues, so I never thought to reach out to any social service organizations, but I learned that there were things I was eligible for to help me during treatment. There were organizations that could help you find a place to get a massage, help you with medications, help you with insurance, etc.

I realized I could help other people with breast cancer find these things, too. I could advocate and help educate about breast health. Really, it was just a matter of me wanting everybody to know about all the resources they could apply for.

I’m passionate about helping others find the resources they need. I find great meaning in assisting people who are struggling and don’t know where to turn, and I could not do what I’m doing today if it had not been for my own experiences with breast cancer.

Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.