Karen’s Story: Overcoming Cancer To Pursue New Adventures

P-P-ONC03817-Karen Inman-Web_350x350pxKaren Inman is described by many as vibrant. The 75-year-old from Middletown is full of energy and enthusiasm.

She loves to exercise and participate in 5Ks with her daughter, as well as spending time with her pets, Sadie and Soccer. Most of all, she enjoys traveling. Karen has proudly visited 50 countries and has no intention of slowing down.

To stay on the go, Karen keeps her health in mind. Every year, she gets her mammogram at the Wilbur and Mary Jean Cohen Women’s Center at Atrium Medical Center in Middletown. February 2020 was no different, as Karen made her annual trip to get checked.

“The day after I was examined, I got a phone call,” recalls Karen. “They wanted to do more scans. I remember thinking, ‘This is not good.’”

After being assessed a second time, doctors decided it was time to perform a biopsy on Karen’s left breast.

“The doctors said they found calcification,” says Karen. “It had clustered, and it was cancer.”

Karen was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma on her left breast. It’s a type of cancer that begins in the milk-producing glands of the breast.

Karen says she was focused on beating the disease and didn’t want it to slow her down. But her determination didn’t overshadow her fear of hospitals. “I didn’t like them,” explains Karen. “I even hated driving by a hospital.”

Karen strived to overcome her phobia of hospitals and worked with Heather Adkins, MD s surgeon at Atrium Medical Center, to begin planning her lumpectomy, a procedure that removes cancer or other abnormal breast tissue.

“You would’ve thought I was the most important person in that entire hospital,” recalls Karen. “I was surrounded by people who couldn’t do enough for me. She (Dr. Adkins) took out one of the lobes and surrounding tissues. The surgery lasted about an hour and they only removed 1.2 centimeters.”

Karen’s cancer journey continued with Nkeiruka Okoye, MD, an oncologist at Atrium Medical Center. Dr. Okoye helped guide Karen through the chemotherapy process, through which she would receive 12 treatments.

“Once she got diagnosed, we went over the treatment and talked about her chemotherapy and side effects,” says Dr. Okoye.

“I come from a family of redheads,” explains Karen. “One of the big things was that Dr. Okoye told me I was going to lose my hair. I really wasn’t surprised.  But my hair began to fall out after my fifth treatment. It didn’t traumatize me. I planned for it.”

Dr. Okoye and an oncology nurse navigator educated Karen on her phases of treatment, expectations, medications, and side effects. She also worked with her navigator in selecting and getting fitted for a wig through Atrium’s Wig BoutiqueThe boutique offers free wigs, hats, scarves, and turbans to anyone who has cancer.

“We’re here to help them accomplish their goals and remove barriers,” says Phyllis Rudokas, RN, an oncology nurse navigator at Atrium. “It’s such a scary time, from the decision of who the patient is going to see, to simple things that make a big impact like trying on wigs or being a source of guidance.”

The support has been critical for Karen’s journey. Through her chemotherapy treatments, she has worked to make this experience and diagnosis positive for herself and those around her.

“I do not dread going to do the treatments, and it only takes a few hours each week,” explains Karen. “I’ve gotten to know everybody during the therapies, and it’s been an awakening experience.”

“You just can’t help not to be drawn into her circle of positivity when you’re around her,” says Dr. Okoye. “She is such a vibrant lady. She has a very positive outlook and that hasn’t changed.”

Karen could have faced a different outcome if she hadn’t gotten a routine mammogram. The American College of Radiology recommends patients over the age of 40 schedule a yearly check-up.

“People hear about cancer and how deadly it can be, but breast cancer is a disease where we can catch it early and treat it all from a mammogram,” explains Dr. Okoye. “There’s not a lot of other cancers where you have that opportunity.”

“My family was always blessed with good health and I felt that I had good genetics,” says Karen. “In my prayers, I always thank God for my health. Even though this had to happen, I still thank Him because this was a wake-up call.”

Karen’s cancer journey has made her grateful for the little things in life, such as taking a walk around her 10-acre property, spending time with family and friends, but most importantly, continuing her excursions around the world.

“If one person can read this and it encourages them to get checked – that’s a win for me,” says Karen. “The whole experience changed my thoughts about hospitals. I looked at it as something that was a last resort, but that’s not the way it is. They’re here to save your life.”

Completing her twelfth and final chemotherapy treatment, Karen has not missed a day of walking three miles around her Warren County home. She’s already planning her next adventure.

She says early detection saved her life and will allow her to continue doing the things she loves most.

“First thing I’m going to do is plan a trip,” says Karen giddily. “When all of this is over with, my friend and I would like to go to Africa. I’d like to visit a park with elephants in Kenya.”

You can schedule a screening mammogram online or call (855) 887-7364(855) 887-7364 Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Women without insurance coverage may be eligible for a free mammogram or other women’s health services. Call (866) 838-8973(866) 838-8973 to see if you qualify.