Kari's Crusade: A young mother's fight with breast cancer

Any woman will tell you that being diagnosed with breast cancer is devastating.

Now two local surgeons are doing what they can to make survivors feel and look as normal as possible. They are performing a surgery quite new to Michiana and it's changing the way women who survive breast cancer feel about their bodies.

They are performing a double mastectomy and reconstruction in one surgery, and can often spare the nipple.

We went to great lengths to use video that was not too graphic, but this is surgery so be warned that you will see some blood.

Wednesday we took you into surgery at. St. Joseph Regional Medical Center where 36-year-old Kari Hazelbaker of Goshen underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction.

Already a breast cancer survivor, who last year underwent chemo, a lumpectomy and radiation, this mother of two didn't want to take any chances her cancer would return.

That's why she decided to go back to surgery where General Surgeon Michael Rotkis and Plastic Surgeon Ronald Downs will remove Kari's breast tissue, put in silicone implants and save her nipples in about three hours time.

Fast forward two weeks and we meet up with Kari at Dr. Rotkis' office for her first checkup.

When asked how she is doing, Kari says, "Everything is going well, everything is going great."

After examining Kari's breasts, Dr. Rotkis says he is pleased with the outcome. He says to her, "The scarring underneath you will never see and the swelling will go down and the implants will drop a bit, so there will be a little more natural slope and contour to the breast."

Kari asks, "If you had done the incision across the center of my breasts, would I have lost my nipple?" Dr. Rotkis says yes, and that's how most surgeons feel comfortable doing it.

Dr. Rotkis says national experts agree many women don't need their nipples removed.

Kari left her bra on with our camera's rolling because the only scars you'll ever see are underneath her breasts.

Kari says having the double mastectomy and reconstruction may sound radical but she felt it was the right thing to do so she and her husband don't have to worry while raising their two kids.

"I think it was the fear of the cancer coming back. I knew I never wanted to go through chemotherapy again. The cancer was very hard to detect in the first place. I was very fortunate to find it the first time."

Dr. Rotkis says this surgery isn't for all women, but Kari was a perfect candidate because her cancer was not close to her nipple and it was caught in the early stages.

"This is good for prophylactic, for maybe somebody who doesn't have breast cancer, but has a genetic mutation which increases their lifetime risk. They want to be proactive. It's an excellent approach to someone who has smaller breasts because the ability to reconstruct them to the way they look is much easier."

And because Kari no longer has breast tissue, she won't need to have any more mammograms.

Kari's come a long way from her diagnosis which she feared meant dying or living without breasts or terrible scars and that's why she wanted to share her journey with other women facing the same diagnosis..

"Go for it. It's peace of mind and in the long run I think you will be much happier. I was 35 when I found out I had breast cancer and now I am 36. So God willing, I have a long life to live."

Alongside her husband, as they watch their two children grow up.

We thank Kari for allowing us to follow her in her journey and for allowing us to share the video of her surgery on our website.

Kari and Doctor's Rotkis and Downs feel it's important that women contemplating this surgery know exactly what they may be facing.

If you'd like to watch Parts One and Two of Kari's Crusade or the surgery in its entirety you can check out the video links above, or click on the stories below:

Kari's Crusade: Part One
Kari's Crusade: Part Two

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