Kari's breast cancer crusade: 1 year after her drastic decision

A little over 1 year ago, in a special Medical Moment, NewsCenter 16 introduced a young mother with breast cancer who made, what some considered, a drastic decision.

Life is much different one year later for Kari Hazelbaker of Goshen as she looks through the pictures and journal she kept while battling breast cancer.

At just 35, Kari found a lump in a self breast exam. A mammogram confirmed her breast cancer and she underwent a lumpectomy, radiation and chemo.

Doctors found more cancer, so Kari, along with her husband Matt, made the decision to undergo a combined double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery that even spared her nipples.

And because this option was so new to our area, Kari let NewsCenter 16’s Maureen McFadden and Chief Photographer Don Schoenfeld follow her into surgery, so that other women would have a better understanding of what they were facing.

“I tell people I went into surgery with breasts and I came out with breasts so you don't have the shock of not having breasts when you come out,” said Hazelbaker.

But Kari said more than that, she wanted to take her best shot at beating cancer.

“I want to see my children grow up and because of my age, I think it was important for me to have that done and hopefully I will have a long life.”

And since that time a little over a year ago, life is good for Kari and her family.

“I had a checkup about four weeks ago and everything came back fine, the blood work came back great, my levels are good and I feel good so that is exciting,” she said

That day, a little more than a year ago, Vascular Surgeon Michael Rotkis and Plastic Surgeon Ronald Downs worked alongside one another, first removing Kari's breasts and then reconstructing them. They were quite sure because of the location of Kari's cancer and her age that she would make a full recovery.

She says they were right. She had slight pain for a week, but is now active with both her kids and husband.

“I had two incisions underneath my breasts, and my breasts look normal. They feel normal, and some of my sensation has come back,” said Hazelbaker. “So this, for me, was a great decision. I don't have any worries anymore. I'm enjoying life, my family, my children sports.”

Kari also spends lot of time helping other women get through a breast cancer diagnosis. Her husband Matt says even total strangers.

And she's giving back in other ways.

“I'm on the Board of United Cancer of Elkhart County,” she said. “They provide financial aid for people who are struggling through chemo and having to work, or don't have insurance.”

Insurance is what Kari hopes her surgery a year ago will give her, and for now she is happy to have a clean bill of health and feel good again, enjoying her family - even the four-legged members.

“I'm just really, truly blessed,” said Hazelbaker.

Even though Kari breasts were removed, she still does a self breast exam every month to feel for any changes. She stresses that she found her own lump, and because of her age, she would not have been recommended for a mammogram for at least five more years. Those are five years she says she wouldn't have had, had she not found her lump.

Regardless of whether the type of surgery Kari had is right for others, she wants all women to know that checking yourself every month is crucial.

If you would like to see Maureen and Don’s Emmy Award winning original story, visit WNDU.com and click on the Big Red Bar.

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