By Kathleen Swift • Photo by Savanah Mandeville
It is known breast cancer runs in families. Karensue Hensley’s grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 79. Karensue’s mother was diagnosed last summer with breast cancer at the age of 81, and her mother-in-law was diagnosed two weeks later. According to the National Cancer Institute, one of eight women will get a breast cancer diagnosis during her lifetime. To Karensue, the odds seemed pretty high, but she thought she might not get the disease until later in life.
“Knowing that breast cancer runs in my family, I have always gone for my annual mammogram in September. It’s an easy way for me to remember because it’s my birth month. For some reason, though, I didn’t go. Things were busy at work, the kids had busy schedules, I just did not find enough time. In December of 2018, I had a 3-D mammogram. A few weeks later, I was asked to come in for a biopsy because something didn’t look right. I scheduled my follow up appointment for January 17. I had the feeling my husband should come with me, and I was thankful he did. We were told I had cancer. The doctor wanted to schedule another appointment to discuss my options and develop a plan.”
But Karensue’s treatment was put on hold since her dad had been placed on palliative care. Karensue recalled, “We knew we would head home to spend my daddy’s final days with him. I did not want to tell my family; though, I did have to tell both my siblings when they wanted to know what was so important that I couldn’t get home sooner than the 17th. They both responded, ‘Don’t tell mom!’
“That was a long week being home as my daddy passed away on Sunday morning with my brother and me by his side. We planned the funeral, had visitation on Tuesday, funeral on Wednesday and burial on Thursday. I think my diagnosis was the worst-kept secret because everyone knew but my mom. On Thursday night, I told my mom she needed to come and stay with us for a few weeks to help take care of everyone here because I was going to have surgery for breast cancer.
“When we returned home, we met with the doctor and developed a plan for treatment. On February 5, Mom came down, and on February 6, I had a double mastectomy. Knowing cancer runs in my family, I wanted to go at this aggressively. I also had genetic testing done but was opting not to wait for the results. Mom stayed with us for a few weeks. My testing came back, and it showed I had a less commonly known gene that causes cancer called check 2. It was recommended that I have a total hysterectomy to continue the aggressive treatment. We now know that I inherited this gene from my daddy. I had my hysterectomy in May, and in July, I returned for the reconstruction process.
“My cancer was found early because of my annual check-up. If one has to have cancer, I was blessed with the timing and the support. My team of surgeons and oncologist is amazing! I did not have to have chemo or radiation treatments.
“My faith has been strong, and my attitude has stayed positive. I’m living life! I have had to give up some things such as vacuuming and weedeating and carrying my dog for now. I also had to stop running because of the reconstruction surgery. I may not live to be 100, my previous hope/goal, but I have some other goals. No matter what, I know God’s with me every step of the way.”