Thrive by IU Health

September 13, 2023

Beating breast cancer and embracing life

IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital

Beating breast cancer and embracing life

Getting a routine mammogram was normal for Kara Dowd. She’d been getting them routinely for almost 20 years.

In 2020, she went in for her mammogram, they noticed that her breast didn’t seem normal, but nothing was found. Her abnormal mammogram made her uneasy, and one year later, they found a spot. It didn’t take her long to realize she had breast cancer. “I felt like I was expecting it to happen, it was just a matter of time,” says Dowd.

She quickly went to have an MRI test where they found two spots, the second one was so small it didn’t even appear on the mammogram. Since she was able to detect the lumps at such an early stage, she knew the cancer wouldn’t be as dangerous, and she was immediately ready to have it removed.

When Dowd called the IU Health Ball Cancer Center she asked the team member on the other line for the doctor they would want their family to visit for care. They told her to book an appointment with Mark Saleem, MD, FACS.

Dowd found that waiting for the surgery was one of the hardest parts. “I just wanted to get it out,” she says. Her family was supportive of her decision since the very beginning. Her husband of 30 years felt the same way, he wanted to remove it all so there was no further risk.

Dowd quickly reached out to plastic surgeon, Edward Kubek, MD to discuss implant options after her cancer was removed. “I wanted to get implants to help me feel more normal,” she says.

Both doctors, Saleem and Kubek worked together to discuss Dowd’s treatment options. “I loved that both of them were there together,” says Dowd. “It gave me more reassurance that both procedures, the mastectomy and the reconstruction, would be done in tandem.” The two would meet a couple of times a month to discuss Dowd’s situation and the best decisions for her. “I liked that they were able to share opinions and discuss together, instead of only one doctor coming up with my plan,” she says.

On January 27, Dowd went in for full mastectomy surgery. The procedure would remove both breasts entirely.

“I felt like Dr. Saleem was so gentle,” says Dowd. “The nursing staff and everyone was awesome for me. From a bad situation, I had the best-case scenario,” she says.

In preparation for her breast reconstruction surgery, Kubek recommended she get a saline implant. He didn’t want her to have another substance in the body that wasn’t needed. Dowd found the saline implants to be softer and more natural appearing on her body.

Kubek showed Dowd before and after pictures of other people with a similar build to her. She has a very athletic build, which can make her implants look different than someone with a rounder body shape.

When it was time for surgery, everything went well. Kubek installed the saline implants just like he had explained during consultation meetings with Dowd. “When I looked at other people’s pictures online, I got really nervous,” she says. “I was scared about how I would look, but I am really pleased with my results! I didn’t expect mine to come out as nice as they did.”

After the surgery, Kubek spent his break with Dowd and her husband in their recovery room. “He made it into a personal experience,” Dowd says. “He didn’t have to spend his free time with us, he just wanted to.” They were able to build a personal connection with Kubek talking about family, life and hobbies.

It’s been over a year since Dowd had her surgeries, and she now often forgets she even has the implants in. “The team at IU Health was amazing,” she says. “I couldn’t have been in better hands from the beginning all the way up to the present day.”

Since they found out about the tumors, the family has changed how they view life, and is spending more time together. “I’m living more in the present, because we don’t know how much time we have left,” she says.

Dowd and daughter after surgery
Dowd and husband

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