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Cancer survivor uses her story to educate

BY KAT RUSSELL krussell@paducahsun.com

Sometimes spousal nagging can be a bit annoying, but in the case of Karen Porter, a nurse, her husband's repeated reminders to get her yearly mammogram may have saved her life.

Porter, 54, and her husband, Dr. Andrew Porter, run a family practice with Mercy Primary Care of Marshall County and are associated with Marshall County Hospital.

"We're always so busy taking care of our patients, that I didn't know when I would be able to find the time to go and get the mammogram done," she said. "But my husband kept bugging me about it, and I got so mad at him. He just kept at me with 'when are you going to have your mammogram, when are you going to have your mammogram.'"

And it's a good thing too, she said.

In February, after finally getting that mammogram, Porter learned she had ductile carcinoma in situ in her left breast, a type of breast cancer that starts inside the milk ducts and can include the surrounding tissues.

"I was flabbergasted," she said. "I mean, I had no symptoms or anything. No lumps. Nothing. So, I got mad at him and he saved my life, basically."

The news hit her like a ton of bricks, she said.

"In that moment you realize that you're not immortal," she said. "And you're thinking 'oh my gosh, this thing can kill me.'"

Porter said she and her husband immediately began consulting with doctors and exploring her options, and in the end she had a partial mastectomy to remove the cancer.

That same day, Porter sent her twin sister to get a mammogram, insisting she get the test rather than sit in the waiting room while Porter was in surgery.

Following her operation, Porter underwent 28 radiation treatments. She is now on a five-year regiment of tamoxifen, an estrogen modulator that can be used in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer.

As a medical professional, Porter said she realized her experience could benefit the couple's patients.

"I didn't want to try to hide it from our patients," she said. "So we basically used it as a tool."

Well known in the Benton community, the Porters have been practicing medicine in Marshall County for nearly 20 years, and many of their patients have been coming to them for years.

"There was no point to trying to hide or minimize it," she said. "Our patients know us, they are used to see me and my husband together, and they would have known something was wrong."

Instead, Porter advocated an educational approach, sharing her experience with their patients, especially women, and teaching them about the importance of being proactive when it comes to their health.

"We would ask our female patients when their last mammogram was and, instead of letting them get by or shrug it off, we would tell them what happened to me, and we would insist and get those appointments set up for them," she said.

The recounting of her story was always met with shock and amazement, Porter said, and as a result, approximately 40 women have gotten their mammograms done at the couple's urging.

"It made me realize that my story could have a positive effect," she said. "In my mind, this was always something that happens to somebody else and not to me. I mean, I had no symptoms, no family history and I felt fine. But I still had cancer."

In additional to encouraging women to keep up with their mammograms, Porter said sharing her experience with her patients has also benefited their relationships.

"I think, knowing what I went through, they trust us even more now to help them do what's best for their health, and they really listen when we tell them 'don't put this off.'"

As for the ladies, Porter's message is simple: "Go get your mammograms. It could save your life. It really could."

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