- Find a Doctor
- Medical Services
- Patients & Visitors
- Classes & Events
- Health Library
- Why Choose Sharp?
Kari Smelser shares the story of her fight against breast cancer.
Kari Smelser was only 35 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Determined to fight, Kari turned to friends and family for support. Read Kari's inspirational story, which she shares below in her own words.
At 35 years old the last thing I thought I'd be was a breast cancer SURVIVOR. I was diagnosed with breast cancer by my surgical oncologist, Dr. Julie Barone, on January 12, 2011. Now, seven months later, I am becoming aware of what happened to me ... and my family. I have realized that this disease has affected all of us, and without their support, I would not be the person I am today.
Finding the Lump
I found the lump myself back in November of 2010. During that time I followed all protocol: I scheduled a visit with my gynecologist, who then scheduled the mammogram. The lump was seen in the mammogram and the follow-up ultrasound. A suspicious mass was found and a biopsy was recommended. It did not occur to me that this might me cancer.
To backtrack a little, this was not my first mammogram, or my first biopsy. We were in the process of scheduling me for a stereotactic biopsy when I was asked the question, are you pregnant? My immediate response was, no. Seems they would not take my word for it and needed me to prove it. So, very matter of factly, I purchased a pregnancy test and went straight to the restroom (at home). Turns out I was about 10 weeks pregnant. I was soon after referred to Dr. Julie Barone, a surgical oncologist with Sharp. I met with her and she scheduled a biopsy. That was the beginning of this wild ride.
Getting the Diagnosis
We went through the holidays knowing our family would be growing. I met with Dr. Julie Barone on January 3, 2011, for my initial consultation. We left there waiting for the scheduling of my biopsy, which we later found out would be January 12th. Less than 10 days away. Like I said, this was not my first biopsy and the thought had not even crossed my mind that it might be anything but benign. We were quickly informed otherwise. The radiologist, Dr. Goldberger, and Dr. Barone spoke and we went straight down to her office. And from that moment on, our lives have been turned upside down, inside out and all around by the c-word.
We had some major decisions ahead of us regarding my health (a no-brainer — take them, do not pass go, do not collect anything, just get this out of my body), my pregnancy (the toughest decision I’ve had to make by far) and how to explain to our 5-year-old that his mommy had cancer.
After meeting with two specialists, we decided we would terminate the pregnancy. My husband was NOT going to raise our son by himself. We have been honest with our son and answered all his questions as they arise like, "Mommy, why did they cut your circles off?"
Kari with her 5-year-old son, whom she calls her inspiration.
Surgery was successful and everything was healing great. I had a lot of the movement back in my right arm by my six-week check-up with Dr. Barone. After surgery, the PET scan showed no signs of cancer in the breast; it did, however, reveal a lesion on my thyroid. Turns out I have papillary cancer in the left nodule of my thyroid as well. When I do it, I do it BIG!
Going for Round Two
Doctor visits here we go again! We met with Dr. Robert Barone (father of my surgical oncologist, Dr. Julie Barone). He eased our minds, stating that if I made it past the breast cancer, surely I can make it through this. Piece of cake, no problem, when can we schedule this? Well, slow down missy. He suggested we get through chemo and let my body heal from that; then we’ll do the thyroid surgery.
So, after six chemo treatments in the Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion Infusion Center, several appointments with my medical oncologist, Dr. Jennifer Fisher, and the hardest 18 weeks of my life, I can proudly (bald headed, I might add) say I made it through that! I even celebrated my 36th birthday in the Infusion Center … to remind myself how precious life is, and that nothing can get me down!
A big thanks to my husband, who stood by me and helped me through this, not to mention brought me Popsicle after Popsicle upon request. And to all my friends and family who have supported US (I was reminded more than once that I was not alone in this).
Because of the breast and thyroid cancer, I was referred to a genetic counselor, Brittney Burnett. She was very informative and really explained everything in terms that I could understand. I was tested for several mutations, but all tests came back negative. While that is great news for my brothers, sister and son, I still wanted to know why. Not in a "why me" sort of way, but a "why not me?" Why not take this experience and grow from it? And that is exactly what I have tried to do.
Kari is all smiles through her final chemotherapy treatment.
A dear friend had this to say about me: “She is not the type of person to sit back and take what comes her way. She is a daughter, an amazing mother and wife, a loving sister, an amazing friend, but most of all, she is a fighter. She has always been a leader, she is an active volunteer in her community and now more than ever, she is an advocate.”
So being the advocate that I am … please, schedule that mammogram you have been putting off. Remind your wife, girlfriend, daughter or mother that she needs to get it scheduled. Life is worth fighting for.
Live, Love Cherish,
Find a San Diego Oncologist
To find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego oncologist specializing in breast cancer or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.