A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

A ‘Link to Hope’: Kentucky CancerLink lends helping hand to those who cannot ‘afford’ to get cancer

By Melissa Karrer
Special to KyForward

On the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, I found a lump in my breast. I was 35, and breast cancer was not on my mind because I was years away from scheduling my first mammogram and I had no family history. Until that moment, my mind was filled with things that a wife and mom of two young boys is supposed to be filled with.

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On Friday, Dec. 7 it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. My world was halted by an aggressive triple negative cancer diagnosis. I had an amazing team of doctors at KentuckyOne Saint Joseph East that took excellent care of me. During my chemotherapy treatments, it was discovered that I also had the BRCA1 gene, which increases the risk of breast cancer 90 percent and ovarian cancer 70 percent. This knowledge put me on a longer path of surgeries that literally took me apart, but for the most part, also put me back together. Making those choices to prevent recurrence were what was best for me at that time.

If Joe, my husband of nearly 17 years, and I had taken bets on which would go bald first, a lot of money would have been made on me… the long shot. I’ll never forget how he kept me laughing. After my treatments and surgeries were completed, I sought counseling. At times, survivorship has almost been as difficult as the physical treatment.

I tell you my story not to bring myself attention, but to show contrast. You see, during my journey I had the support of an amazing spouse whose job could support us so I could focus on my health. I had practiced physical therapy for 15 years. I had an army of family and friends to help with my two boys so I could go to my treatments – or be hospitalized due to chemo-related infection – and just rest so that I could heal after my multiple surgeries. We had copays and deductibles, but they were met by the end of February 2013 and all was covered 100 percent for the rest of the year.

I began volunteering for Kentucky CancerLink and now work part-time in Community Relations. Cancer shifted my path in life. It tried to take me, but being a part of this organization has brought more joy to my life than I could have ever imagined. The people that Kentucky CancerLink strives so hard to help are the ones who literally cannot “afford” to get cancer.

A dad diagnosed with lung cancer can’t miss work for his treatments because his income supports the family, a single mother with colon cancer can’t find anyone to watch her children, transportation costs to and from a considerable number of appointments for treatment and follow-up are too great.

Again, the contrast. We all have the ability to be a “link to hope” to Kentuckians in need of cancer screening or a helping hand while on a cancer journey. Many have experienced hearing the words, “You have cancer.” All of us have had a family member, friend or coworker who has. Every single one of us deserves to have hope. Until there is a cure, hope is our best defense.

For more information about Kentucky CancerLink, visit www.kycancerlink.org. You can also call 859-309-1700.

Melissa Karrer Story (1)

Melissa Karrer works in Community Relations for Kentucky CancerLink.

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