Advocate Turned Patient

As national breast cancer awareness month begins, we share the story of one Charlotte woman’s fight against the disease.

dsc_8763-2Katie Robbins thought she knew everything there was to know about breast cancer. Her job is to help educate women on the need for mammograms. The 43-year-old mother of two has worked as the marketing director and customer experience officer for more than a decade at Charlotte Radiology.

And then she herself was diagnosed with the very disease she’d spent her entire career working to prevent.

“When you’re in advertising, you really hope you can do something and promote what you’re passionate about,” says Robbins. “In healthcare you always think about the numbers; you always worry, will I be the one?”

Last year the mother of two girls joined the statistic she’d spent her adulthood talking about.

“I went for my mammogram the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I had no lumps or issues. No family history,” says Robbins. (In fact, 75 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history.)

And yet, Robbins was diagnosed with what was ultimately deemed stage-one breast cancer.

Robbins has what’s called dense breasts, so she opted for a 3-D mammogram that can see through thicker tissue. That’s where they found a tiny tumor.

“I was really lucky,” she says. “The tumor was hiding in that tissue and if I’d had a regular mammogram, it might not have seen it.”

She had chemo to shrink the tumor, then surgery, then more chemo, and finally radiation.

 “Before, I really didn’t understand the full scope of what happens to patients on the other side,” she says. “I knew a lot about leading up to the diagnosis. My eyes have been opened to so many things, and it’s really going help as I work with women.”

Even the way she talks to patients has changed. Because doctors caught it so early, she didn’t have a mastectomy, instead opting for a lumpectomy.

“I used to say I would lop them off. I would never say that to a woman now, it’s a rough surgery,” she says.

She has just finished radiation and  is considered cancer free. She has a renewed focus in her professional and personal lives.

Robbins says she wants women to know the importance of getting an annual mammogram after the age of 40. Cancers detected in women under the age of 50 tend to be the most aggressive, so early detection is key.

And she especially wants women to know you can not only survive, but also thrive despite a breast cancer diagnosis.

“It’s not just about surviving cancer,” Robbins says. “It’s about being able to live your life through the cancer journey. Because we found my cancer early, I had lots of options for treatment and was able to keep working and being a mom and wife through it. I’m a cancer survivor who has maintained a good quality of life but if I found this later my life would be very different.”

If you’d like to know more about Robbin’s story, follow her journey at www.caringbridge.org/visit/katierobbins.