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Elementary teacher, 28, diagnosed with breast cancer

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Elementary teacher, 28, diagnosed with breast cancer

Both her grandmothers had breast cancer, but Sarah Clark had no reason to believe her diagnosis was hereditary.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

She was tested. She didn’t have the gene. Nevertheless Sarah Clark, 28, said she always had in the back of her mind that she might be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Maybe it was the awareness of the disease that is the most common cancer among women worldwide. It’s estimated 276,480 American women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and 48,530 will be diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer this year. An estimated 2,620 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

Clark was familiar with the disease. Her grandmothers, now 85 and 75, were diagnosed when they were 39 and 69. They are survivors. To understand her chances of getting the disease, Clark underwent testing for “BRCA” – Breast Cancer Gene. It’s estimated women with certain genetic mutations have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who do not have the genetic mutations.

Clark tested negative for the gene. But on July 7th, she felt a lump in her right breast. She went in for a biopsy and heard the words: “Stage III Breast Cancer.” Under the care of IU Health Dr. Tarah Ballinger she is receiving chemotherapy every two weeks.

“I don’t know why but for some reason, I always felt I’d develop breast cancer. I just didn’t think I’d be this young,” said Clark. “I love Dr. Ballinger and all the nurses, and the good news is the tumor is shrinking,” she added.

During a recent visit to IU Health Simon Cancer Center Clark and her mother, Christie Clark, waited outside of infusion. They talked about life before diagnosis.

Clark, who has two younger brothers, was always a nurturer, said her mother. In high school she joined her church youth group on mission trips to Costa Rica, Mexico, North Dakota, and Philadelphia where she helped with children’s outreach programs and building improvement projects. Before COVID-19, she enjoyed traveling, especially to Ireland.

“She was always a good student and loved reading. When the Harry Potter books came out she’d read them that night,” said Christie Clark. It wasn’t uncommon for Sarah to gather her young brothers around a chalkboard, read books and play school. From the time she was in third grade she dreamed of becoming a teacher. She also worked as a nanny for eight years.

“I love kids and now I love watching them grow. It means so much when I see a student who is struggling with reading at the beginning of the year, and then reading chapter books at the end of the year, “ said Clark.

After graduating from Plainfield High School, Clark attended Ball State University and has been teaching first, third and fourth grades. A fellow teacher at North Salem Elementary, Megan Sankey, and mutual friend, Ryan Thompson, organized a fundraiser on Clark’s behalf – producing t-shirts with the words “Believe” and “#SarahsSquad.”

And that’s not all. Her friends and coworkers have gifted her with blankets, meals, lotions, and books – things that help her get through chemotherapy. They also help keep her spirits up.

“I always knew she had great friends but now I’ve seen how amazing they are,” said her mom. “It’s my family and friends who have helped me remain positive,” added Clark. “If I could give advice to anyone else near my age, I’d say, ‘check yourself. You’re never too young to start.”

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