University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"I Feel Like I've Beat Cancer." - Carlette, Breast Cancer Survivor

Growing up, cancer was a common topic in Carlette Knox’s household.

One of five daughters, Carlette’s mother was a two-time breast cancer survivor who eventually lost her fight with pancreatic cancer in 2011. Her father died of colon cancer, and many members of her family fought cancer in some form.

Yet when Carlette felt a lump in her breast in fall of 2009 at the young age of 34, she blew it off hoping it would go away on its own.

“At the time, my mother was going through treatment for pancreatic cancer, and I had a lot going on in my life,” she remembers. “Plus, I had already had a mammogram just a few months before, so I didn’t think it could be cancer.”

Six weeks later in December, when the lump hadn’t gone away, Carlette made an appointment for another mammogram that confirmed what she’d known deep down inside – she had breast cancer.

What Carlette didn’t know at the time, however, was that she was BRCA positive. Carlette carried a mutation on the breast cancer gene that made her predisposed to developing breast and ovarian cancer.

“My mother was diagnosed at the age of 35 and she experienced the devastating loss of her mother to this disease while growing up,” says Carlette who underwent BRCA mutation testing in 2010. “I also witnessed two of my aunts lose their battles with cancer. I knew firsthand the impact this disease had on the women in my family; the need to attack this diagnosis head on was evident.”

“I was introduced to the risk assessment program and with the help of a genetic counselor underwent testing to determine my cancer risks,” remembers Carlette. “When I learned I had a genetic mutation, I felt targeted. I don’t know why, I just took that diagnosis very personally – more so than my breast cancer diagnosis.”

However, that knowledge helped Carlette make the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy, complete removal and reconstruction of her breasts, as well as an oophorectomy, removal of her ovaries to reduce her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Carlette also underwent chemotherapy to treat the breast cancer she had already developed.

“Learning about BRCA put into perspective my risk of breast cancer recurrence and ovarian cancer. My decision to remove the non-impacted breast tissue was supported by clinical trial data as well as my personal experience," she says.

"Seeing the effects of this disease throughout generations of women in my family was not a tradition I was willing to keep. While the procedure to have my ovaries removed itself was minimally invasive, the decision was not without much emotional turmoil on the inside. In my mind, this would change my landscape as a woman at such a young age. Ultimately, after researching the effects of ovarian cancer, I embraced this option as a blessing not a curse."

Today, Carlette is physically and emotionally better than she could have ever imagined.

“I don’t look or feel like any of what I went through. It may sound a bit crazy, but I’m grateful for the journey. My faith is stronger and as a result of this life changing experience I’ve been able to embark upon yet another journey.”

Carlette has become an advocate for women with breast cancer and the BRCA mutation at “Life Worth Living.”

“Life Worth Living is the realization of my passion to raise awareness, empower and support those impacted by cancer and to broadcast the message of hope aspiring them to live,” says Carlette.

“Today, I feel like I have beat cancer. I did everything I could do from a care standpoint, and I want to give as much as I can, because I keep seeing younger women impacted by a breast cancer diagnosis. I want help women find their voice and tap into the hope of overcoming their diagnoses and treatments.”


Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center is leading the way in breakthrough cancer treatment. If you or someone you know has been touched by cancer, the power to find the Cure is Within.
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