Healing Women One Scar at a Time

Tune into the latest episode of Real Pink to hear Corina Klein share how complications after surgery led her to starting a non-profit organization that provides tattoos for breast cancer survivors who lose their nipples from breast cancer, to help them feel whole again.

Episode Transcript

Adam Walker: 00:03 From Susan G Komen. This is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room. Joining me on the show today is Karina Klein to share her breast cancer journey. Carina, welcome to the show.

Corina Klein: 00:24 Hello. Thank you. How are you?

Adam Walker: 00:27 I’m, I’m doing well, and I’m excited to talk to you. You strike me as someone that is just so motivated and like, like we were, you know, we were, we’re doing like our pre show chat, and I think you mentioned something like you have like a nonprofit, a full-time job, and like a couple of other things that you do like, so, so let’s start there. Um, like who are you, what do you do? Where do you live? What’s your life look like?

Corina Klein: 00:53 Sure. So I live in Rhine, New Hampshire, um, in the 13 miles of beautiful seaco that we have here. Um, I’m a full-time banker for a community bank here locally. I’ve been with them 11 years. Um, and I love my job. I’m pretty much a relationship manager, so I bring on businesses and I manage them, so I’m like, they’re concierge, one stop shop. Um, I’m not sure if I could plug my bank, but it’s Newburyport Bank, um, . And then, uh, aside from that, after my breast cancer, um, journey, I started a nonprofit, um, to help other people, uh, with the healing process as, um, their tattooing, um, tattooing options, obviously for Okay. For breast cancer.

Adam Walker: 01:40 We’re, we’re gonna need to explore more about your nonprofit Sure. Fi finish telling us about your life, , but I wanna know more about your nonprofit for sure. Yeah,

Corina Klein: 01:47 Absolutely. Yeah. Um, so I live here with my husband, Jesse. Um, and we have two children that are living up in Canada, Haley, and Nathan. And my, my daughter just got married last year, so I now have another son, Ryan. Um, and I’m so excited. We love him to death. Um, my husband and I, we also have three other companies. We have a IT company. Um, my husband’s a partner in a construction company, and then a friend of ours during Covid wanted to do a restaurant, and banks stopped lending the restaurant, and we were like, let’s do it. So we helped him out. And so we’re a silent partner in, in a barbecue restaurant, which is really funny because I don’t eat meat. Neither does. So it’s kind of like, really, we laugh every time we tell this story, but yeah. Um, it’s, it’s doing really well this year. We’re gonna get a food truck, so, um, things are busy, but I mean, life is too short. You have to like, keep busy. That’s, that’s my, I wait, my

Adam Walker: 02:44 Goal time out. So wait, you’re, you’re gonna add another business as a food truck, or like, it’s gonna add onto the restaurant, or like,

Corina Klein: 02:51 I guess it’s the same. Um, we’ll open it up as a another entity, but it would be run separately.

Adam Walker: 02:55 Okay. I listen, I, I think I might have a new mentor, uh, , like, wow. Oh my, that’s so much stuff. Oh my gosh. I love that. Okay. All right. So, so that’s your, that’s your day to day, that’s what you’re about right now? That’s

Corina Klein: 03:08 My life. Uh,

Adam Walker: 03:08 Yes. Yeah. Let, let’s, but let’s hear about your breast cancer story. Uh, and I thought you said it was, it was relatively recent. Just kinda walk me through, you know, finding it, what it was, the diagnosis, that sort of thing.

Corina Klein: 03:20 Absolutely. So, um, January of 2020, I went in for my regular mammogram. It was great. They called me back for, um, an ultrasound. It was my right side, and sent me on the merry way end of March. I’m in the shower end and doing my like check because I mean, I was so in tune with my body. I knew everything. Um, and I’m like, oh, this is weird. I found a lump. Um, so I’m like, well, probably just another cyst or whatever they found on my mammogram in January. Um, and I had my annual scheduled with my doctor, and I’m like, alright, I’ll just wait. I’ll mention it then, because it’s, it’s coming up. They called to cancel because of covid, and I mentioned it on the phone, and they’re like, you know what, let’s wait two weeks. See where you are in your cycle.

Corina Klein: 04:09 Just because like, you know, you can have these fibroids and things can happen. Um, so waited two weeks, , I actually forgot to call my doctor, and she called me the next day and she’s like, Hey, just checking in. Like, you know, do you still have that lump? And I’m like, actually, yes. Um, because in banking when Covid hit, we were trying to save as many businesses as possible with PPP loans and like, it was probably the craziest time I’ve ever had in banking, but I’m like, oh my goodness, yes I do. Um, they’re like, great, we have you scheduled for an ultrasound tomorrow. I’m like, alright. So I, I cut out a work a little bit early for my appointment, and I was gonna go back and I went from my ultrasound, and then the, the technician doing it. She’s like, all right, I’ll be right back.

Corina Klein: 04:53 I’m gonna go get the doctor. I’m like, okay. I’m like, alright. So he comes in and he’s like, you know, it could be a fibroid, it could be something, but we want a biopsy just in case. I’m like, okay. And he’s like, we can do it right, we can do it right now. I’m like, whoa. Right. Like right now he’s like, we’re doing an hour and a half between patients because of like the shutdown. Mm. And I’m like, okay. So they ended up doing a biopsy and he’s like, I’ll talk to you in a couple days. Like, chill, didn’t, didn’t seem anything worried. Right. Um, at work, the next day, this is April 16th, and I get the phone call and I answer, he’s like, Reina. He’s like, I was wrong. It’s breast cancer. I’m like, like completely shocked. Like everybody was shocked. So it was, um, the good thing about covid, I mean, I dunno if you could say that, but, um, things moved so fast.

Corina Klein: 05:45 So I found out on April 16th. Then the following, I had to meet with the, um, breast surgeon on the 21st. And I have this pack with my kids, and we’ve always had it that we never not tell anything. Like we always we’re a hundred percent transparent with each other, if even it’s good or bad. Like we just don’t hide things. And I’m like, how am I gonna tell my kids? How am I gonna tell them this? Like, ’cause I don’t know the information. So I decided to wait to see my surgeon and then get all the information. So I went and I went in there knowing I was gonna do a double mastectomy. Like, I’m like, I’m not, I’m not playing around. I just wanna get this over with. So we started the, the treat plan was supposed to be surgery and then chemo, but after doing my MRI, the, my tumor was too close to my pectoral wall that they needed to shrink it in order to successfully get the margins right.

Corina Klein: 06:41 So I went home and the borders shut down. So I can’t see my family and my kids can’t be here. So having to tell my family over zoom was probably like, so like I did individually. So I did my, my mom and my stepdad or first, and then I did my brother, and then I did my dad, and then I zoomed with both my kids and they knew something was wrong because they’re like, mom, you don’t ask to zoom like you are like, Hey, you guys wanna FaceTime, you wanna do that. But, um, just watching them fall apart on like over the screen and you can’t like do anything for them, um, was just heartbreaking. I think that was probably the hardest thing. Anything like, out of all of it, that was probably the hardest. And them not being able to be here. Yeah. Um, wow. So they had to watch. So we, we decided like, no, we’re gonna do this every Sunday. We’re gonna do a zoom, like a family zoom, and that way they can just get the updates and I don’t have to like, keep Yeah. Telling, text

Adam Walker: 07:44 Everybody and answer a million questions. And That’s smart. That’s

Corina Klein: 07:47 Smart. Right. So then I went in and I got my port placed, um, and that was like May 6th. And then I started my, my first treatment like three days later. It was cra it happened so fast. Wow. Um, but I stayed locally for my treatment, um, in Portsmouth because I didn’t want to travel to Boston. Um, my team here was amazing. Um, that’s great. My nurse, my, my nurse that got assigned with me, , her name’s Michelle. And she, her and I are still, I still talk to her. Um, she’s, she’s my angel. That’s what I tell her because she told me everything. She explained to a t what was gonna happen, and she’s just like, Hey, like, you know, you’re going to have your hair fall out before your second treatment. Like, she just prepared me for what was gonna happen. Right. Um, and then went through six rounds of, um, treatment, like aggressive chemo, the TCHP is what they call it.

Corina Klein: 08:42 And it’s Paxter carboplatin, Perceptin Perjeta. Yeah. Um, so after my six rounds, I ended up going in for myectomy, my double mastectomy and, uh, September 11th, 2020, which is like a day by itself. Um, and the days, it’s, it’s special to me. I mean, I was in really good shape going into cancer and I’m, I’m very thankful for that. Um, I loved, it’s a cycle. Like I go to Mission Portsmouth and it’s like these, this dark room loud music and it just, you just lose yourself. So that morning when I was going into surgery, they actually did a ride for me and they draped a, a shirt over my bike. Um, and they had a pink light shining on it. So it was just like, you know, it’s, it’s all about community here. Yeah. And it’s, it’s amazing. Um, so I went for my double mastectomy and I chose nipple sparing because I wanted to feel as normal as possible right after like, losing my breasts.

Corina Klein: 09:46 And, um, I know there was risks and they did a test underneath, like when you’re under, just to make sure that there’s no, like, cells near, near the ple because that they gotta take it anyways. And I passed. It was great. Um, come outta surgery, which was funny because I lost my taste because of chemo. And then I don’t know what happened, but as soon as I woke up and I like had like something to eat, I’m like, oh my God, I can taste this. This was, it’s like, like my taste came back, I think because of all the fluid that they’ve flushed through you . Yeah. Okay. It was, it was great. I’m like, I’m not gonna lie, , it was like the best thing ever being able to taste something again. Um, that’s great. And then I continued on, um, treatment until, uh, may of 2021.

Corina Klein: 10:31 Um, every 21 days, just perception and pre projeta. After my surgery, I wrote three weeks later, well actually it was almost three weeks to the day I sent a picture to my surgeon, um, surgeon who, um, I thought I was healing. ’cause I’m like, oh, it looks pink, it looks great. Um, no, it was skin necrosis. My skin was dying. Mm-Hmm. So it was like emergency surgery. I had to go in that night. And, um, he was preparing me. He’s we’re really good friends. Now he is like one of my besties because he knows he, he’s the same as me because we just like, tell me how it is, even if it’s gonna be bad. Right. Yeah. Um, and he’s like, Brittany, he’s like, I might have to use a back flap. I might have to use piece of your scapula. Be just, because if you think about having a breast with your, your nipples as nipple sparing and then being told that the skin died and they have to take your nipples, so they have to take half of a half.

Corina Klein: 11:33 Yeah. Right. And then try and pull the skin over, like new expanders. So it was, yeah, it was, it was a, an experience. And I’m like, well, do I have to have drains? It’s the only thing I cared about was having drains because they were the worst. And, um, he’s just like, yeah, you’re probably gonna have some drains. I’m like, well, can you put them somewhere else? Because I don’t want them coming out the sides because they hurt so bad. Mm-Hmm. Um, so he ended up doing them out the front and it was way better. But I, I guess as soon as I woke up, because I said, can I go home after surgery? I didn’t wanna sleep in the hospital. And he’s like, if I have to use your scapular or your back flap, you’ll have to stay. Right. Um, so I guess as soon as I woke up from, um, being out, I asked him if I’m like, did he use my back? She said, no. I’m like, so I can go home. So it was just a whole big joke. It was like, you don’t care about anything else, but going home,

Adam Walker: 12:25 , that’s the first question. Can I go home? That’s it. So that’s what matters. Yeah.

Corina Klein: 12:29 1130 at night, Dr. Wilson, he comes in and he’s just like, he’s like, so how you doing? I’m like, you didn’t use my back. I can go home. You said I could go home. So yeah, my husband came and picked me up and, and took me home. Um, but because of all the, I don’t know if it was like the extra surgeries or the surgery on top of surgery, my shoulders froze. Hmm. So I ended up having two frozen shoulders. I had four degrees of rotation birth. Hmm. It was crazy. So I had to, uh, yeah. Physical therapy and like acupuncture, just trying to get things moving. Right. So, fast forward to January because my, my breast cancer was triple positive, so, okay. I ha I, um, I end up, I opted after speaking to my doctors to remove my ovaries too, because I mean, hormone driven cancer and scares you.

Corina Klein: 13:21 ’cause the next place is like, oh, you know, um, and I have any more kids. It’s, it’s what? It’s Right. Um, so I had that surgery in, in January and then February I had my first reconstruction surgery. And I can tell you after like having the implants in and looking in the mirror without nipples, it was, uh, it was unreal. I was, and then I’m usually a really good, I’m pretty confident. I, I can, I’m, I think I can say that I carry myself very well. And I’m just like, it actually rocked my world where I was like wearing baggy shirts. I was covering myself up, and I’m just like that. And I wasn’t used to being small chest. I was just like, what is this? It’s, and you look like a Barbie with like these big scars and you’re, it’s this, it’s just, yeah. Not something that you, um, expected. And I looked at pictures and pictures and pic like, so I knew what to look for, but I just didn’t see it on myself. Looking in the mirror.

Adam Walker: 14:22 It’s different when it’s the mirror, right?

Corina Klein: 14:23 Yeah. I’m like, it’s like an outer body. It’s just like, I know I’m me, but it’s not me. Like I just, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Yeah. Um, and then just as I was getting ready to book my tattoos, I saw on, uh, social media, somebody had donated money for nipples. And I’m like, why would somebody

Adam Walker: 14:45 For nipple tattoos? Is that tattoos? Yeah. Oh, okay. Okay.

Corina Klein: 14:48 Oh. And I’m like, why would somebody donate money? Isn’t this included in insurance or isn’t this included in like, anything?

Adam Walker: 14:55 Right.

Corina Klein: 14:56 And I mean, being in banking, we have great insurance. So I called my insurance company and I said, Hey, this is what I wanna do. This is where I wanna go. And the guy on the other line said, oh, ma’am, that’s considered cosmetic. And I’m like, I’m like, cosmetic. Why is it cosmetic? I said, I was born with nipples and now I don’t have them. So explain to me how this is cosmetic and why I should have to pay for it. Um, and, and I’m like, you know, I’m fortunate enough that I I, I could afford it. Like I, I can. And then I got, I was really angry. I went to bed. I concocted this whole thing that, you know what, nobody should have to like, worry about getting tattoos or feeling themselves again. So the next day I reached out to my friend Meg, who has another nonprofit in our area, and I’m like, this is what I wanna do.

Corina Klein: 15:49 And she’s like, let’s do it. So we met and she helped me fill out the paperwork. Like she was like, my, she’s still my, my guiding star. Yeah. She was like, this is what you wanna do. Right. Um, so we filed the paperwork backlogged because of covid, like with the government trying to get your 5 0 1 C3 status. Um, so in September of 2021, I got the letter in the mail saying, congratulations, you’re now 5 0 1 c3. Ah, that’s great. I love it. And it, they backdated it, like formation. The formation date was 5 5 21. That was, that was my last treatment.

Adam Walker: 16:28 Wow.

Corina Klein: 16:30 Yes. That’s amazing. So if it wasn’t meant to be, I’m like, come on. Like, so, so,

Adam Walker: 16:34 So let me, so let me recap because I wanna make sure we haven’t lost anybody. So, so you founded a nonprofit, uh, with the purpose of helping women that have had to have their nipple removed due to surgery, get a tattoo to, uh, not, I mean, replacement’s not the right word, but, but to, how would you describe it?

Corina Klein: 16:56 So we, yeah. So we provide, um, we find artists and we fund the artists to do tattoos for women that have lost their nipples or if they want to cover their scars with like a decorative piece. Um, it’s just anything to make somebody feel whole again. And it’s, it’s more, it’s a, it’s a mental thing. It’s like these ta these tattoos are life changing. Um, a lot of the women that we’ve, we’ve helped that’s always say is like, I can look in the mirror again. I can, like, it’s just so amazing. Um, so we expanded our reach to cover eyebrows now because they don’t, they don’t tell you that you going through chemo that you, you’re gonna lose your eyebrows and your eyelashes. I, I, my nickname with my husband is no hair, no, no eyelashes. No eyebrows. So ,

Adam Walker: 17:52 That’s so, that’s so terrible and funny at the same time right there. I love it. I love it. Okay. Yeah. So that’s still,

Corina Klein: 17:58 That’s still my nickname

Adam Walker: 18:00 Today. Still your nickname to this day. Okay. Got it. Wow. It’s good to know that, that we can get new nicknames as we continue to in life, so. Exactly.

Corina Klein: 18:09 Um, but yeah, so it’s just, so we cover that now. Um, yeah, we do a port scar, so anything pretty much breast cancer related that somebody gets a scar they wanna cover or they just Mm. Um, we’ll, we’ll help fund, um, wow. And yeah, it’s been a busy year. 2023. We did 27 tattoos. Wow. Uh, like we love that. We fund, we funded 20, yeah. 27. And we brought on, I think six new artists. Yeah. Um, we get requests from all over. Uh, unfortunately, like right now, we cover the New England area. My, my vision is to take the, like anywhere, like a, a branch of us in every state would be amazing. Right. Um, but, you know, gotta, can’t go too big too fast.

Adam Walker: 18:51 You gotta, you gotta grow. It gets messy. You gotta grow. That’s right. One, one step at a time. One step at a time. Yeah. Okay. Okay. So, uh, you’re, you’re doing the nonprofit, you’re doing the companies, you’re doing the work, , uh, what’s, what’s, what’s next? I mean, you’re, the food truck’s coming soon. What’s, uh, what’s next on what, is it world domination for the nonprofits? Is that what’s next?

Corina Klein: 19:14 Um, I, I hope so. That the nonprofit continues to grow. Um, yeah. And it’s just getting the word out there. ’cause people Yeah. Don’t know. There was a documentary that we showed last year, um, as our like only event that we did last year. And it was called Full Circle. And it was a producer named Patrick Norman that did this out in la. And it went through these women and each journey, like, and their tattoo process. So like a nipple, some of them got decorative. We showed this, um, at, uh, a local brewery. We had 72 people come, which was pretty amazing for us. ’cause we didn’t expect that many. And it was, it was, we did a silent auction and there wasn’t a dry eye after that film. It was only a 22 minute documentary. Um, but a lot of people after, like, I had no idea.

Corina Klein: 20:09 I just thought after you were done breast cancer, like, you know, that was it. Like, you’re just back to normal. I’m like, there is no normal. I said, I’m still learning. Like, that’s the biggest struggle right now is like Right. Learning after 43 years. Yeah. I knew who I was. I knew my body in and out. And now I’m just like, what the heck is this? What, what is this? So it’s learning to fall in love with yourself over again. Um, and that’s what they don’t prepare you for. I think in the midst of it, you’re fighting for your life and you’re doing whatever you can. Um, but the after is where you’re like, oh my goodness. What, what’s gonna happen? Yeah. And they’re like, oh, you’re great. You’re a survivor. I’m like, yeah, we’re surviving. We’re great. But it’s never over. Yeah. That’s, that’s what you, that’s what people don’t realize.

Corina Klein: 20:55 Um. That’s right. That’s right. And i’s, and I, and I’m happy. I’ve made a lot of, I call them, we call each other Pink Sisters along the way. Yeah, that’s great. Um, that’s great. I have, I have, um, Jeanine, she’s on my board now, and she, her and I met because I had, she had to go for surgery to lose, uh, her nipple. And we were just at the surgeon’s office at the same time. And we, our bond is like inseparable now. And she has like a sister that I just, I’ve always wanted, and we always laugh and say something that we never wanted. Like, nobody wants to have cancer, but I’m so thankful because I found you. So, yeah. You always gotta take the, the positive. I guess that’s what I say when I, when I speak to a lot of women, the surgeons, they send people my way in our area, um, that got diagnosed just because I’m real. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. I’m gonna tell you, you’re gonna, you’re gonna feel like garbage and you’re probably gonna, like, things are gonna happen. Um, but there isn’t something I’ll answer. There’s nothing I won’t show. Like, it’s just Yeah. I’m, I’m an open book when it comes to, to,

Adam Walker: 21:59 That’s why you’re such a great interviewee. That’s, uh, that’s it. That’s it. Well, you know, and, and I’ll, I’ll, I’ll say this. Uh, and then, and then I’ll, and then I’ll wrap, I’ll wrap us up here. Okay. But, but I really appreciate you sharing everything you’ve shared. I mean, I’ve, I’ve hosted this show for years. I don’t know that I’ve heard anyone really talk about decorative tattoos like that, uh, before. So that’s, uh, that’s really fantastic. I appreciate you, you sharing that.

Corina Klein: 22:23 So thank you. Thank you for having me. So,

Adam Walker: 22:26 Karina, if our listeners did wanna find out more about your nonprofit, where would they go?

Corina Klein: 22:32 Um, so they can go to our website. Uh, it’s, uh, ink for pink org. Um, if you’re on social media, we’re on Instagram and Facebook, and I think we have a TikTok. Um, I’m like , I’m the least social media. Like, if you see something, it’s, it’s not me. . Yeah.

Adam Walker: 22:51 . I think we have a T TikTok that’s, uh, that’s Ink four Pink, that’s the, the number four Ink four pink.org. If you wanna know any more information, uh, about, about that nonprofit. Well, Corina, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.

Corina Klein: 23:04 Thank you for having me.

Adam Walker: 23:11 Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan g Komen. For more episodes, visit real pink.koman.org. And for more on breast cancer, visit koman.org. Make sure to check out at Susan g Koman on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter at AJ Walker or on my blog adam j walker.com.