Karla B.

Breast Cancer - Stage 4

Karla Baptiste

My energy has returned, I am back to work and back to the routines of daily life. But life is not the same as it was before my diagnosis and treatment, as I now have this story of survivorship to tell.

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results. 

Life had been filled with ups and downs by the time I moved to Texas in 2013. I had been married, divorced, then remarried to the same man, and then separated again; an experience that prompted me to move from San Francisco, California, to Texas, where my family was. It was time for a new beginning.  

But the past was not quite done with me yet. Years earlier, in 2007, I had my first brush with breast cancer. I had just returned from Paris, France, where I attended graduate school for international business. That time abroad had been my dream ever since my mother and I had traveled there together years earlier. When I finished my studies, I returned to the United States, taking a job in the Bay Area. But a few months after arriving there, I developed a rash on my breast. When I put cream on it, I noticed a lump. I was diagnosed with stage 3A breast cancer. A lymph node dissection found cancer cells in 14 out of 24 lymph nodes. I received excellent care in California and was cancer-free for many years. 

Fast forward to 2013: I had been having back pain for some time, but the trouble escalated a few months after I arrived in Texas, with painful muscle spasms occurring too frequently. I saw an orthopedist, but there was no clear diagnosis at the time. Still, I knew the problem was serious and needed attention, and I was determined to listen to that inner voice. 

One day I became dehydrated, short of breath and my blood pressure felt low, so I went to the local emergency room. A CT scan showed that my lungs were clear, but there was a lesion on my vertebrae. The doctor there told me that I needed to see an oncologist right away. I was so glad that I listened to my instinct and took my symptoms seriously.

I was soon diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. This time the disease had metastasized to the spine.  

At ease

After an initial appointment at a cancer center near my home, I decided to pursue a consultation with Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).* I had seen commercials for CTCA® and my family encouraged me to call. We were all intrigued by the integrative approach, in which diet and other types of support are included alongside traditional medical care. But the closest CTCA location was not near me, so I was not sure if going there would even be an option. 

I made the call and was immediately set at ease. The person I spoke with understood my condition, knew the complications I might experience from the disease and from the treatment, and answered all of my initial questions about the logistics of being treated at CTCA. “If the treatment at CTCA is anything like this phone call, this place is great,” I remember thinking at the time.   

That first visit was even more impressive than that first call. My parents came with me but my mother, who is epileptic and had a sinus infection at the time, was having seizures and needed to go to a hospital. CTCA sent a car so that my father could easily travel back and forth between my appointments and the hospital where my mother was being cared for. After being treated so well, my father told me that he thought CTCA was where I needed to be, and I agreed with him.  

Handled with care

My treatment at CTCA began on that first visit. My care team at CTCA did not recommend an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) or chemotherapy, but I did have hormone therapy. My oncologist proceeded with caution and care. She wanted to avoid the uncomfortable side effects of radiation unless it was absolutely necessary, but emphasized that ultimately the decision was mine to make.  

The most difficult side effect of the treatment was hot flashes, which my care team helped to manage. My naturopathic oncology provider recommended vitamins and supplements, and I greatly appreciated that input because I prefer to include all approaches—diet, vitamins, and such—in my care.  

One day I was in the cafeteria with my parents and a man began playing the ukulele and singing. The song was about the hospital in Zion, and many people around us began singing. In that moment, all I could think was what a good place I was in.  

All of my visits to CTCA have reinforced those first impressions. When I have blood drawn first thing in the morning, the results are available within an hour. The stress of waiting is virtually eliminated from the experience. When I have a question, it is answered as quickly as possible.  

Back to life 

Today I'm happy to say that I have no evidence of disease. I couldn't be happier with the care I'm receiving. I have hormone therapy injections to diminish the negative effects of excess estrogen production and another injection for my bones. Sometimes friends will ask me, “Can’t you get treated closer to home now?” But the truth is, I don’t want to. I treasure my visits to CTCA, my home away from home. Each time I visit, I help others learn how to “write through cancer,” providing them an outlet for their emotions while they go through treatment.

My energy has returned, I am back to work and back to the routines of daily life. But life is not the same as it was before my diagnosis and treatment, as I now have this story of survivorship to tell. After my treatment was completed, I published my memoir and continued working with community outreach programs to raise awareness about breast cancer among African American women.

I had so much fear when I was first diagnosed, and then again the second time I was diagnosed. I was told again and again that people with this diagnosis can live for many years, and I decided that I did not want to live each day in fear. We can’t fight properly when we’re afraid. Now I want to encourage others coping with this or another cancer diagnosis to let go of that fear and let faith take its place.   

* Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, working together to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care. Because this patient testimonial was written and published before CTCA® and City of Hope joined forces, mentions of legacy CTCA locations have not been updated in the interest of maintaining the patient’s original voice and story details.
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