Greater Baltimore Medical Center
"I'm a Survivor"

Karen Cherelstein's Story

I had just had a mammogram the October before and everything was fine. One morning in January of 2007, right before my fiftieth birthday, I did a self-examination and found something. I went to my OB/GYN and after an examination, he said he felt it was just a cyst but that I should check with my internist. I did just that. My internist, too, felt it was just a cyst and tried to drain it. He couldn’t, so he scheduled me for a more invasive biopsy the following week. I was starting to get a little scared.

The biopsy was very uncomfortable, and when the results were in, my internist asked for a special appointment. I knew the news was not going to be good. My husband and I went to the appointment together, and the diagnosis was stage 1 cancer with a small lump. I had a few options: I could have a mastectomy and avoid radiation, or have a lumpectomy and have radiation, and either way, I was going to need chemotherapy. Happy fiftieth birthday to me.

As more tests came through, I learned I was HER2 positive as well, meaning the cancer was aggressive. I did decide to wait to have any procedures until after my birthday so I could at least have a celebration, but in April, I had the lumpectomy and shortly thereafter, began chemotherapy and then radiation. It was a VERY long summer, but all in all, I fared okay.

By October, I was back to work fulltime with my hair growing back in. I have NEVER looked back and am happy to say that it’s been 8 cancer- free years to date. While that part of the story has a happy ending, I was beginning to have weight issues. At five-foot, one-inch tall, any additional weight is very obvious, and I was piling it on. It was 10 pounds after all of the chemotherapy and radiation, and I told myself, “Oh well, after everything I’ve been through, I don’t have to worry about 10 little pounds.” Then, over the next several years, it became five pounds more each year until one day in October, 2014, when I saw a number on my scale that I just couldn’t believe.

Along this journey, I learned that one of my friends from work, Diane McClyment, was also going through her own breast cancer issues and didn’t like her doctor. I recommended Dr. Cohen to her and she of course loved him just like I did and sought his care. She, too, had had a wonderful recovery to date, but like me, she battling some subsequent weight issues. She and I would lament to each other almost every day that we just had to do something.

One day she relayed to me she was joining a clinical trial for weight loss and that I should look into it. I was so excited that we could do it together. Unfortunately, because my cancer diagnosis and treatment were so long ago, I didn’t qualify. But, because Diane was willing to do her clinical trial, and because I had seen that AWFUL number on my scale, I figured I just had to do it myself. That’s how my weight loss journey began. At first it was a shock as I stopped eating almost all carbohydrates, and I was watching my calories and portions as well. We started our journeys together right around Halloween. All that candy! But, slowly but surely, we both started seeing results. We started checking in with each other almost every day as the pounds started rolling off. It was a process, but we’ve both excelled and are now talking about new clothes shopping everyday instead of how fat we are!

Because I was successfully treated for my breast cancer, and because I pressed myself into a much healthier lifestyle, I am much happier and much more productive. I have been able to see both of children graduate high school, and my oldest graduate college and get a full-time job. Of utmost importance though, is that I was able to help my daughter through a very brave and difficult transition from male to female as she is transgender. With being cured and feeling happy and healthy, I have been able to be a strong resource and support for her. Together we’ve successfully “battled” many issues, biases and discriminations.

Share Your GBMC Story