Warning Signs of Breast Cancer Recurrence with Karen Sock

Breast cancer, unfortunately, can come back even if doctors believe the chances are low. We don’t know why breast cancer recurs or when it will – it could be as soon as a few years after you’ve completed treatment, or it can be 20 years later. As a breast cancer survivor, you can stay in charge of your breast health by knowing the warning signs of recurrence and talking with your doctor when something doesn’t feel quite right. Karen Sock joins the podcast to share her story.

About Karen


Adam (00:00):

Throughout Black History Month, we are working to raise awareness of breast cancer disparities for black women, encouraging them to take charge of their breast health and raising funds to eliminate barriers and reduce disparities in breast cancer outcomes for black women support for the real pink podcast comes from Merck and Amgen oncology, Amgen oncology strives to serve patients by transforming the promise of science and biotechnology into therapies that have the power to restore health and save lives. Amgen is developing innovative medicines like biosimilars for difficult to treat cancers and is proud of their first in-class therapeutic approach aimed to dramatically improve outcomes. Learn more at amgen.com.

Adam (00:50):

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. Anyone who has been through early stage breast cancer should know the warning signs for a possible recurrence.

Adam (01:07):

Breast cancer. Unfortunately can come back. Even if doctors believed the chances are low, we don’t know why breast cancer recurs, or when it will. It could be as soon as a few years after you’ve completed treatment, or it could be 20 years later as a breast cancer survivor, you can stay in charge of your breast health by knowing the warning signs of recurrence and talking with your doctor when something doesn’t feel quite right to share her story about how she discovered her breast cancer had returned is Karen sock. Karen, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me, Adam. I’m so excited to talk to you. Thank you for joining us on the show today. So tell us a little bit about your initial diagnosis with breast cancer.

Karen (01:51):

Well, I was in the shower in the fall of 2010 and I spelled a small lump under my right breast. It felt kinda grisled and almost like a piece of chicken. And I made an appointment to go to the doctor twice and I canceled on twice. So it was kind of a busy period in my life. And finally, my husband insisted that I make the appointment and keep it. So it was in December of 2010 that I finally went for my mammogram. And after the tech got finished, I could tell by the look on her face, that something wasn’t quite right. And she said, I’d like you to sit here and I’m going to get the doctor. So the doctor came back in, he introduced himself, he looked at my film and he said, I’m going to do an ultrasound and take a little closer look.

Karen (02:38):

And that’s, that’s not the typical procedure. Right? So when the, when the diagram came up on the screen, the x-ray, I could see kind of an unusual shaped thing there. And he said, you know, I don’t know what this is. I don’t know if it’s solid. I don’t know if it has liquid in it, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be there. So I would like to take a closer look and we need to schedule a time for you to have this three mode. So I said, okay. And so we scheduled a time to have her removed. And I went to the local surgery center and the doctor called me the next day and said, Karen, unfortunately you have a tumor. That’s two centimeters in diameter. Half of it is cancerous. So you do have breast cancer. We need to talk about a treatment plan for you.

Karen (03:25):

So I hung up the phone and you know, when you hear the word cancer, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience. You don’t really hear much after that. So my husband and I made an appointment to go and see the surgeon. He told us that the cancer was there and that it was estrogen positive, meaning that the tumors are fed by estrogen. So my husband and I had a conversation, our only adult daughter lived in Columbus, Ohio about four miles from a cancer research Institute there. And she insisted that we come there for a second evaluation. So the doctor here did an Oncotype test, measuring the makeup of the tumor would tell you to a high degree of accuracy, whether or not the cancer is likely to return. So while we’re in Ohio, the doctors here are taking a look at the makeup of the tumor.

Karen (04:20):

I connect the two doctors while I’m in Ohio. They said, we’re going to do a margin surgery to make sure that all the cancer has been removed. And while we’re in there, we’re going to do a Sentinel lymph node test where they shoot dye into the breast and see if any lymph nodes light up. Or the beauty of going to a research Institute is that new research had just come out. That said, if you have breast cancer, you don’t have to remove all the lamps. Only the lymph nodes that are affected. So two were affected. They remove them. I don’t have lymphedema or any of those kinds of issues. Like many people do who have had all their lymph nodes removed. So I had the margin surgery, they determined there were two lump that had to be removed. And they took them all at the same time. They determined that the makeup of my cancer would not benefit from chemotherapy. And both doctors agreed here in my home community and at the research center to be 33 radiation treatments. So I came back to Mississippi, I had the 33 radiation treatments, and that was uneventful except, you know, sometimes the breast would get a little tender. So I would always use a, an ointment to make sure that I keep it moisturized. And I went on about my business. I didn’t talk much about it and I didn’t think much about it.

Karen (05:39):

Yeah. In 2014, my husband and I were hosting a family reunion for his family here. And it was in July of 2014. And we were doing some last minute running around on errands. It was a rainy day and we went to a major retailer here. It was raining. I walked in the, and a guy was coming to me, walk them toward the door with a map, but it wasn’t doll. Yet. I walked in, I went up in the air, came down on both of my knees. And on my left shoulder, I had a pretty good fall. So I was rattled. I sat down on the bench and the people in the store, of course they were all worried and all that. And so I said, I’m sure I’ll be sore for a couple of days. I just shook it off. And we had our family reunion, but over time, the pain in my shoulder would not subside.

Karen (06:29):

So my primary care doctor three times and had x-rays and he kept saying, Karen, I don’t see anything. I don’t see anything. And so finally I said, there’s something very wrong. And so he said, I’m going to send you for an MRI. I came back for the results, the color left his face. And he said, Karen, I am so sorry, either you have a very bad infection or your cancer has returned. I need you to go to your oncologist, white and race. So I go to my oncologist, they send me for a series of things and, and it was determined that the number six vertebrae in my neck was virtually eaten up by a cancerous tumor. And there was a small spot on my right. Yeah. So again, we go through a series of appointments with the, with the doctors to determine the treatment and my daughter again, and suggested that we go back and have a second opinion.

Karen (07:23):

So he went back to Ohio, to the research Institute, the doctor there said, Karen, we’ve looked at all your scans. We’ve looked at all your reports and you’re young, relatively young, and don’t have heart disease. You don’t have diabetes. So we’d like to put you on a tablet that will block the production of estrogen. And we want to see you again in three months. And then again, in six months, and while I was there, I also saw an oncology neurosurgeon. And he said, you know, Karen, I would love to operate on you. Cause that’s what I do. But I would like to see you let’s see what the medicine does and come back in three months and six months. So I went back in three months, the tumor had began to get some, I went back in six months and all the pain was gone.

Karen (08:08):

The tumor had, had gone down to a really small size and new bones began to generate around the perimeter of the tumor. So the new bones were protecting me and the tumor was small enough that I wasn’t having any pain. And all my six months visit the oncologist said, I’d like to add a bone targeting agent to help protect your bones. So I have the one thing that’s making sure that the estrogen is not feeding the tumor and all bone targeting agents. He mentioned two types of bone targeting agents, and one of them was XGEVA and he said, well, you can take this one or you can take XGEVA, one, you take as an infusion through your veins. And that would happen the quarter. The other is a monthly shot. Well, I’m a pretty busy person. And I thought, well, I’ll take the convenience of the monthly shot. And so I chose XGEVA, and it has really allowed me to live a full life. So I don’t have pain in my neck. I take vitamin D and a calcium tablet as a supplement to help protect my bones and the XGEVA, you know, just really makes me conscious all the time of my bone health. So I make sure that I, I walk, I’m very conscious of not falling and I’m hypersensitive to any changes in the way that I feel in my body.

Adam (09:35):

Wow. No, that’s, that’s great. And I’m, and I’m glad that you’re hyper sensitive to any changes. And that’s one of the things that we talk about a lot on this podcast is the importance of that. So I want to, I want to go back and just ask a quick question. So I’m, I’m assuming what you have is considered metastatic breast cancer because the cancer traveled to your neck. And so before receiving that diagnosis, did you know what metastatic breast cancer was? And did you know any of the possible warning signs for it?

Karen (10:02):

I had never heard of metastatic breast cancer until I was diagnosed. And I had no idea that a fall of any type, once you have cancer, once you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, but you need to go and get checked. So I was in pain from July of 2014 until my diagnosis in March of 2015, sometimes like barely lift my arm. So there’s a few things. The primary care doctor should have some baseline knowledge of breast cancer, in my opinion. And then the oncologist, you’re just being fed so much information that it’s tough to digest. And that’s why my husband or my daughter or a friend always went with me. And if they couldn’t go, I would record the conversation with the doctor on my, on my phone, because what they said and what I heard, we’re not always a match, but when 30% of the people can experience metastatic breast cancer after an initial diagnosis, that’s something that I think people need to be told, even though it’s not good news.

Adam (11:05):

Yeah. I totally agree with you. People need to be aware so they can be on the lookout for the warning signs. That’s really, really important. So I think you already mentioned this, but I just want to, I want to ask, how are you doing today?

Karen (11:17):

I’m doing great. I, I keep a full schedule. I pro on, on days when it’s not raining somewhere between three and five days a week, I walk about two miles in the neighborhood with my husband or daughter. I get up and stretch every day. So in the order of things, those things that are uncomfortable for me, like, you know, there’s joint discomfort and that kind of thing are my Newt and the order of things. I’m very conscious of eating healthy, keeping busy and and really being positive. I’m very fortunate to participate. I’m a new member of Susan associate in science, Susan G. Coleman associates in science. I have people that call and ask me questions about breast cancer. And if I can’t answer them, I certainly can direct them to the right resources. I’ve been recognized as a breast cancer survivor over the year.

Karen (12:08):

I’ve been a fundraiser for the annual wall. Even this year I walked and fill myself up my daughter for the Susan G Komen walk here, I’m in the community, but you’re, you’re what I found is in the beginning. I didn’t want to talk about it, but I found that if I talk about it, that is helpful to other people and frankly liberating for me. So for all the time that Coleman and asked me to do things in the community, I’m just shocked that afterwards there’s always two or three people that come up and say, you’ve given me hope. I know that I can get through this.

Adam (12:42):

That’s great. That’s great. Wow. I love that. I love your energy that you bring to this team. That’s so great. So, so Karen, last question. What advice can you give doctors and survivors about NBC so that a recurrence can be caught early?

Karen (12:57):

I would tell doctors to number one, just to be honest. I mean, if it, if the news is bad news, it’s better than we have the bad news. So at least we know what to look for going forward. And the whole issue of metastatic breast cancer is a big deal. And secondly, it’s critical that women are, are in tune with their body, that they do the annual breast exams. If they feel something different that they do something. If they feel something, they must do something about it. When I was at one of my doctors, he was telling me about, there are some women that for cultural reasons and religious reasons that they don’t want to talk about it and they don’t want to have their breasts removed. Some of them will wait until the breasts are hard and black and well that’s too late. So you have to deal with reality. You have to use the resources that are available to you, and you got to stay positive. It’s not over until the fat lady sings. That’s what I always say.

Adam (13:53):

Karen, I love your attitude. I love your energy. And just the positivity that you’re bringing to this conversation. Thank you for sharing your story with us and for joining us on the show today.

Karen (14:04):

Well, thank you so much, Alan, for having me and I look forward to seeing you again.


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