Survivor of Breast and Cervical Cancer Finds Positive Outlook

Kari Martin - Stories of Hope

Kari Martin has had her share of health scares over the years. She found her first breast lump at age 17, the first of 9 benign (non-cancerous) lumps she had removed from her breasts during the next 2 decades. One of those lumps, found in 2004 when Martin was 35, was so suspicious, her doctor advised her to begin getting yearly mammograms. (The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms begin at age 40 for women at average risk of breast cancer.)

Less than a year later, Martin had a scare that was more than just a scare. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It was caught early through a Pap test, and she underwent a hysterectomy. She did not need chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatment. She said, “I felt so blessed!”

Then in 2008, after her regular yearly mammogram, Martin received a letter telling her she had a suspicious result and should come back in 6 months. Six months later, after the repeat mammogram, she received an identical letter. But instead of scheduling another repeat mammogram, Martin made an appointment with a breast surgeon. “My instinct just kicked in,” said Martin.

The surgeon ordered an ultrasound of Martin’s breast, and found nothing wrong. Martin got up to leave, but the surgeon insisted on examining her other breast. The doctor felt a mass, ordered an ultrasound, and saw something that worried her. The next day, Martin underwent a core needle biopsy and was told she had breast cancer.

Good news and bad news

Martin was diagnosed with Stage II triple negative breast cancer. The good news was that it was found early, before it had spread, but the bad news was that this type of breast cancer tends to be very aggressive.

Martin’s first thoughts were about her sons, then ages 10 and 17. She worried, “Is my 10-year-old son going to lose his mother? Am I going to see my 17-year-old son graduate from high school?” She prepared to fight. She underwent surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Martin said losing her hair as a side effect from treatment was very hard for her. “For all the people who say, ‘It’s just hair,’ they should only know what we go through. It’s ‘just hair’ for the people who have it; for us women who have to endure chemo, it’s a lot more than ‘just hair.’ I went through some dark, sad days and never felt so ugly and scared. I never thought I’d ever look normal or be pretty again.”

Martin found help through an American Cancer Society Look Good Feel Better workshop. This free, national public service program teaches cancer patients to manage the appearance side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Volunteers at the workshop – some of whom were breast cancer survivors themselves – gave her wigs and helped her with makeup and skincare.

“They know exactly what you’re going through,” said Martin. “Sisters and friends want to be there for you, but they don’t always know what to say. People at Look Good Feel Better know what you’re going through.”

New positive things

"I want women to know I am living proof there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope, and life will get back to normal. I do not let the thought of recurrence run my life; I live my life and thank God for every day."

Kari Martin

Martin has had additional breast lumps as well as ovarian cysts, but all have turned out to be benign. She said that though she worries about her cancer coming back, she looks for ways to think positive.

After her breast cancer treatment, she began exercising with an interactive video program, and now uses it every day to practice yoga, aerobics, and weight training.

She also likes to go to the American Cancer Society website, cancer.org, to read inspiring stories, especially ones about women surviving triple negative breast cancer. She hopes to become a source of inspiration herself.

Martin said, “I’ve never felt or looked better in my life. I want women to know I am living proof there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope, and life will get back to normal. I do not let the thought of recurrence run my life; I live my life and thank God for every day.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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