Karen Marks stresses the importance of listening to one’s own body, and getting second opinions from doctors.
In April 2010, when she was 51 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram and ultrasound. She was sent to Dr. Karen Yeh with University Hospital.
“When she took the biopsy it came back benign,” Marks said. But Yeh wanted to do a core biopsy, and through that the cancer was found in the center of the tumor.
“Fortunately, they caught it early because of her,” Marks said. “That would be my biggest advice to women … if the doctor looks at any kind of lump and says, ‘Let’s just watch it for three to six months, don’t worry about it, it’s probably nothing’… if you’ve got something growing in your breast and you don’t know what it is, my advice to any woman would be to get it out, have it tested. Don’t wait, because waiting could mean the difference between survival and not survival.”
Marks said it’s unfortunate that many women listen to their doctors and do not get a second opinion.
“I think we all have to be our own best advocate,” she said, adding that women should be aggressive and tell their doctor what they want done.
Marks’ mother was able to help her get through breast cancer, after being diagnosed with the disease herself in 2006 at age 74. Because of the age of her mother, Marks said she was told that her cancer is not considered to be a genetic form.
“I figured if she can get through it as an older adult, I could, too,” she said.
Marks’ advice to women, in addition to seeking second opinions, is to have a healthy diet. Drinking alcohol can increase breast cancer by up to 40 percent, she said.
“It increases hormone levels and makes the body increase estrogen,” she said. “It’s like putting it on steroids. My cancer was estrogen positive.”
Organic food can also eliminate other things that can lead to cancer, such as hormones and pesticides.
Learning she had cancer in 2010 made it a bad year, but on a positive note she said it was also the year she took up art. She used art as an outlet to help her get through treatments.
In the winter of 2010 she had a dream of a scene that resembles an English cottage that she calls House of Hope, Marks said.
By spring 2011, she had turned the dream into a watercolor painting available on note cards to offer hope to other women battling the disease, and for breast cancer awareness.
The back of the card reads “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12).”
Sitting in the infusion room, Marks said she would often draw and take the drawing back home and paint it.
Twenty-five percent of proceeds from the sale of her note cards and gift cards go to the Breast Cancer Prevention Coalition, a nonprofit organization that raises money for cancer research at Georgia Health Sciences University. Cards can be purchased in North Augusta at Jim Bush Flower Shop and The Beveled Edge, and in Augusta at Cudos, White Crane and MCG Image Boutique at the MCG Cancer Center.