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Karen Sams: Taking on the Unknown

Karen Sams

“To anyone on the fence, get the biopsy or do the extra test. Who knows, it might be nothing but at least you’d be sure. If it is something, then maybe you’ve caught it early.”

Karen Sams
Breast Cancer

After 41 years of marriage, Karen Sams and her husband, David, were looking forward to their trip of a lifetime – Yellowstone National Park, Jackson Hole, and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

But Karen received a call that, quite literally, stopped her in her tracks.

She heard “breast cancer,” but she didn’t know what would come next.

A Different Result

Karen and David appreciated the slower pace and friendly community in Sun City, a retirement community amid the rolling hills of Georgetown. Enjoying retirement – both bowling, David golfing – Karen visited her physician each year for a routine mammogram. After examining results from her annual mammogram in October 2020, her physician told her “it’s probably okay,” and asked her to return for a follow-up in six months.

Dutifully, Karen came in for the follow-up mammogram. This time, the results were abnormal, and a biopsy was ordered in May 2021.

“Karen’s case demonstrates the benefits of screenings and mammograms as the disease was detected before she had any symptoms, and before the cancer was able to spread to other parts of her body,” said Heather King, M.D., FACS, who operates with Julie M. Sprunt, M.D., FACS, at Texas Breast Specialists–Austin.

Prioritizing Her Health

A few days into their trip, in the middle of the Utah desert, Karen got the call and was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a precursor to invasive cancer that originates in the breast’s milk ducts.

Though Karen thought about finishing the trip, David was adamant that they return home and see a doctor right away.

Back in Texas, Karen spoke with an anesthesiologist and family friend, who recommended Drs. King and Sprunt.

Dr. King recommended breast conservation surgery, or a lumpectomy, followed by radiation therapy. The surgery would remove her tumor and radiation treatment would prevent future cancer from returning.

In July 2021, Dr. King performed surgery on Karen’s left breast to remove the tumor and combined this operation with a breast reduction. Dr. Sprunt simultaneously operated on the right breast so that both breasts would appear similar in size and shape.

One Day at a Time

In August, Karen started radiation treatment, a 20-day regimen. Though tired due to the treatment, she has enjoyed the friendships she’s built with the Texas Oncology team. She sees the same nurses each time she visits, who are “just as nice and kind as they can be,” and Drs. King and Sprunt were “excellent.”

But her original mammogram still stands out in her mind. If she were to do it again, she wouldn’t rely on “probably okay” and would go straight for the biopsy, rather than waiting six months for a follow-up.

“To anyone on the fence, get the biopsy or do the extra test,” added Karen. “Who knows, it might be nothing but at least you’d be sure. If it is something, then maybe you’ve caught it early.”

Karen also underwent genetic testing to make sure this type of cancer wasn’t hereditary. The test results came back negative. Following her surgery, no malignancies were found in Karen’s tissue, aside from the tumor that was removed.

“Every morning I wake up, I thank God for this day,” said Karen. “The thought, ‘What if it comes back? Has it spread somewhere else?’ You don’t know, but you just go on.”

The information included in this testimonial is based on one patient’s unique experience and is not intended to represent all patient outcomes or expectations.