Taking Charge of Your Own Health

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: 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. Bilateral prophylactic mastectomies can lower the risk of breast cancer in women at high risk by at least 90%, and can be a healthy choice for young women with significant family histories of breast cancer, like today’s guest Sarah Baumann does.

After a 10-year long history of yearly breast ultrasounds, biopsies, and MRIs, and a lumpectomy for a suspicious lump in her left breast, Sarah spoke with her surgeon to weigh the pros and cons, and ultimately decided to take charge of her own health by having a prophylactic double mastectomy at the age of 27.

She is one year past her reconstruction and has never felt more comfortable in her skin or secure about her health. Sarah, welcome to the show!

[00:00:57] Sara Baumann: Thanks so much, Adam, I’m happy to be here.

[00:01:00] Adam Walker: I’m excited to talk to you about this, this such an important topic, and it’s so nice to talk to somebody with an infectious smile. Wonderful, wonderful art in the background and in a really interesting story. So, let’s start with, with kind of a little bit about you, who you are, what you’re about, and then let’s dive into your family history. So, give us your, the 30 seconds of who Sara is.

[00:01:19] Sara Baumann: My 30 second spiel, my name is Sarah Baumann. I am formerly trained as an occupational therapist. I usually work full-time as an occupational therapist in the acute care setting, I used to work in outpatient therapy as well. I am also a part-time artist now. Full-time. I’ve been working in the NFT space as well, selling some of my non fungible tokens. I’ve had a significant family history with breast cancer, and I am here to try and educate people as much as possible on reducing their risk of breast cancer as well.

[00:01:54] Adam Walker: Well, let let’s start there. Let’s start with your family history of breast cancer. You said it was significant.

Can you walk us through the women in your life that have had breast cancer and tell us a little bit about their experiences?

[00:02:04] Sara Baumann: Sure. The first person that I encountered as a child with breast cancer, my family was my aunt. Uh, this is my maternal aunt. She had her first instance with breast cancer in her forties.

I believe she had a unilateral mastectomy about 10 years later. The breast cancer came back in the opposite breast. Um, she had that breast then removed and then shortly after that, the cancer had spread to her bones and her brain. Um, and she unfortunately passed away. My mom’s cousin was also diagnosed with breast cancer at about 30 years old.

She had a unilateral. And has thank goodness. Been fine since, and that’s been about 30 years for her. And then finally it was my mom. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 while I was in grad school for occupational therapy. And she has thankfully been cancer-free since 2016. She had as well, a double mastectomy, uh, with.

[00:03:01] Adam Walker: Hm. Wow. Well, that’s, uh, that’s some significant history. Um, and, and I, and I understand, you know, from your background that is even, even as early as your teens, you were starting to notice some warning signs in your own body. Can you tell us about that in the testing that followed in the.

[00:03:16] Sara Baumann: Absolutely. So, you know, kind of knowing that we have a significant breast cancer history in the family, uh, it always kept my antennas up about that.

That possibility put six, since I was about 16 years old or so I had been finding lumps in my breasts. Uh, sometimes they would burn sometimes they were just really painful. Um, but almost always, they were pretty hard, very dense. And generally anywhere between. Henny to quarter sized. Um, so from 16 years old on, I had been getting just about yearly ultrasounds and, uh, primarily my left breast.

And every time it was filled with, you know, absolute and complete anxiety, um, it would be anxiety leading up to the ultrasound, up to the doctor’s appointment up to getting those results, especially as young as I was. And it wasn’t until I was about 25 or so that I started having to dip into breast MRI.

And, uh, more intensive breast ultrasounds. Uh, sometimes they were, um, also including a core needle biopsy. So it, it just kind of ramped up from 16 on.

[00:04:22] Adam Walker: Wow. And so, so tell us about the decision that all that testing and background led to and how old you were at the time and kind of give us, you know, the background of how you were feeling about.


[00:04:34] Sara Baumann: So around 25, I had felt another lump in my left breast, which a little background I. Prior to my mastectomy had very fibrous, dense breasts. So that was already a little bit of a hurdle to get over because it’s kind of difficult to see what’s going on in there with imaging, whenever your breasts are a little bit more dense and being the age that I was, uh, I was not yet eligible for mammograms.

Um, so I had found one lump in my left breast that. It burned pretty significantly. It was very hard and it just felt a little bit different compared to the other ones that I had experienced in the past. Um, I went to a breast surgeon about that one. They sent me off for a sonogram. The sonogram was done.

And they said, well, you know, it looks a little bit weird. So you might, we’re going to put a clip in it, essentially equip is what they use to track location of that lung. And from there, they sent me to the breast surgeon, the breast surgeon also ultrasounded it. And she said, you know, it definitely looks a little bit concerning.

We’re going to do a needle biopsy on it. Um, they did that and they found that it was a fibroadenoma, um, which is essentially a benign tumor after that. My doctor. Basically told me that, Hey, this, this looks really suspicious on an ultrasound, even though it came back as being benign. I still think it’s in your best interest to go ahead and do a lumpectomy on that.

And I did, I went forward with that, and that was in January. That was January, I think, maybe three or four years ago. Um, and not too long after that. I found more lumps and that same breast. And I think after the lumpectomy and finding more lumps, my breast surgeon was basically like, listen, given your family history, given everything that you’ve been through, the fact that these lumps keep reoccurring, it’s probably going to be in your best interest to go ahead and do a prophylactic, double mastectomy.

[00:06:29] Adam Walker: Um, okay. And, and so I would imagine that, you know, in your experience as an occupational therapist, you’ve dealt with a lot of breast cancer survivors and patients. Um, how did that affect you and how did that give you courage as you decided to make this, take this path for your.

[00:06:46] Sara Baumann: So I think as human beings, we tend to have a fear of the unknown, right?

And for me, having taken care of my mom through her, you know, her battle through breast cancer, as well as treating patients both on the outpatient side and on the acute care side, I had a lot of knowledge behind my decision. Um, That kind of empowered me to make the decision with a lot of ease. Um, I knew that it would help clear up my mind and eliminate a lot of the anxiety.

Um, but I also knew what the medical procedures would look like behind it and what my rehabilitation would look like. And I think because of all of that knowledge in the healthcare setting, it gave me a lot of. Strengths and focus on going forward with it. And not a lot of fear. I made sure that I researched my doctors pretty thoroughly.

I made sure that I was going into, um, into surgery with doctors that I felt really confident in. And really I had like very minimal anxiety going into the procedure, the initial mastectomy procedure.

[00:07:50] Adam Walker: Wow. That’s impressive. I guess, based on your background and everything else, you know, it made sense. I guess it was the next logical step, right?

[00:08:01] Sara Baumann: Yes. Yeah, definitely. And you know, at that point, I think it was just anxiety all day, every day. And especially whenever it led up to going and having another breast MRI or another breast ultrasound, it was, I mean, it re really put a wrench in my life. It was hard to live my life normally because of all the anxiety related to what is the potential diagnosis going to look like?

So, um, Really ready to just be done with that anxiety.

[00:08:29] Adam Walker: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s so brave and inspiring that you were, you were in tune with your body at the level that you were able to, to recognize all of these things and able to make these decisions and take charge of your own health. And so, so what does that meant to you and why do you think it’s important for, for patients to advocate for them?

[00:08:49] Sara Baumann: So my mom is a really perfect example of why it’s important for patients to advocate for themselves. And, uh, I say that because when she found her lump, she went to her primary care physician. Her PCP referred her for a mammogram. So she went and she had that mammogram done. Once that was done, they said, you know, we don’t really see anything on the mammogram.

You’re fine. Go ahead and go home. She continued to advocate for herself and said, no, I know I feel a lump. And I know it’s. You know, for my body, I think we need to do a little bit more intensive testing on it. And so they did, you know, she had to really, really press for it, but they did. So they went ahead and they did a sonogram and they said, you’re right.

There is a lump there. And we’re going to go ahead and refer you for a needle core biopsy. Um, about a week after that they did the needle core biopsy and sure enough, it came back as cancerous. So I think her story was. Probably the biggest part of me wanting to make sure that I add an advocate for myself and advocate for others as well, because our knowledge and our capability of taking our healthcare concerns in our own hands is ultimately going to be one of the most important things that we do as patients.

[00:09:58] Adam Walker: Yeah, that’s so important. We’ve talked about that many times on this show. It’s so important to advocate for yourself to know your body, to know what’s going on inside of you and to advocate for the tests or procedures or, or consideration that you know that you need. So, um, so that’s, that’s great. I appreciate you sharing that.

We talked briefly at the beginning about this new transition in your career to being more of a full-time artist. And for those listeners that are listening, you can’t appreciate the art that is directly behind Sarah in the background, but it is beautiful and spectacular, and I’m very envious that I cannot do such things.

So, um, so I’m, I’m so impressed with your ability. And your artwork. Tell me about that transition. And if this whole experience in dealing with your, your health has helped to inspire you to make this career switch or how it’s affected this career. It

[00:10:46] Sara Baumann: definitely did. Um, so, you know, I was a full-time occupational therapist for about five years, but my passion has always been an art.

Um, so even though I’ve been working as a full-time occupational therapist, I’ve always had a side business of doing art custom pieces, selling prints, you name it. My husband talked me into, um, minting some of my art pieces as NFTs, which stands for non fungible tokens. I did that. And, um, they sold out then that’s allowed me to transition into being a full-time artist and a part-time occupational therapist, which is kind of the perfect balance for me, but certainly going through the experience that I went through, watching my mom going through the experience that she went through, it really kind of little light bulb that.

That kind of told me I need to continue to pursue my passions and try and live out my passion because life is short. I mean, really, um, and I want to be doing something that I am just absolutely passionate about and happy with and don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love working with my patients. I love healthcare, but it’s not quite the same as being an artist for me.

So, uh, definitely, definitely my experiences. They helped kind of. Kickstart and propel my, uh, my wants to go into art. Full-time

[00:12:04] Adam Walker: well, I’m excited for it. I look forward to checking out some of your artwork. So, uh, I guess last question. Do you have any final advice that you’d like to share with our live.

[00:12:15] Sara Baumann: Yeah. Um, and this kind of goes back to something that we’ve already said, which is advocate for yourself, you know, do your monthly breast checks. You can do them in the shower. Um, if something feels off, if something feels weird in your gut, if you feel even, even any sort of lump, even if you’re questioning yourself, well, maybe it’s just a lymph node or maybe it’s just this or that.

Get it checked out anything. And if you are, you know, getting checked out and you feel very headstrong and the fact that it could potentially be something concerning push and advocate for yourself to get additional testing done, because you never know when it can truly save your life. But the other piece of advice I’d really like to give to everybody is go into everything with as much of a positive mindset as you can, you know, working in the healthcare field, I’ve come to find that patients who have a positive mindset.

Do so much better in regards to their recovery. Um, so I know it can be, you know, some of the darkest days you’ve ever experienced, it can be very hard getting that initial diagnosis based off of what I watched my mom and my aunt go through can be an absolute whirlwind, you know, being, being shuffled from doctor to doctor, not really knowing what’s going on.

Stay positive about it. Stay positive about your team, have your family behind you, and it genuinely will make all the difference in the world in your treatment and your recovery and your rehab. Everything.

[00:13:36] Adam Walker: That’s right. That’s right. Well, Sarah, it’s been wonderful to have you on the show. Thank you for the courage in your own life and for sharing that courage with us here on the show.

And maybe we can have you back again sometime

[00:13:49] Sara Baumann: I look forward to it. Thank you so much, Adam.

[00:13:57] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit RealPink.com. For more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, AdamJWalker.com.