Karla's brush with breast cancer

Aislin Carlyon plays with mum Karla Steen, who has a new focus on good nutrition and healthy product choices after being diagnosed with a form of cancer called Ductal Carcinoma in Situ.
Aislin Carlyon plays with mum Karla Steen, who has a new focus on good nutrition and healthy product choices after being diagnosed with a form of cancer called Ductal Carcinoma in Situ. Lee Constable

KARLA Steen is a beautiful woman in the prime of life.

She had a successful career as a radio producer, TV and radio journalist and government media adviser.

She then ticked off the next significant indicators of female success - marriage, followed by the arrival of a beautiful baby girl. Twelve months on from the birth of Aislin, and life was good.

Until she found a lump.

"I was 38 years old, celebrating my only child's first birthday when I found a lump while breastfeeding," Karla said.

"I thought nothing of it and when I eventually went to see a doctor I had an ultrasound which came back as 'probable mastitis'."

But a friend and trained midwife suggested she get a second opinion and the cancer card was dealt.

"I remember the day as clearly as if it was yesterday," Karla said.

"My dad and I had taken my daughter to the library when I received a call from the doctor's office; she wanted to see me immediately.

"I was standing in the Mackay City Library looking at my baby daughter playing and started to cry."

The words "I'm sorry, I have terrible news, it's cancer" are not the ones anyone wants to hear.

"I was completely shocked because there's no history of that in my family," she said.

"And your mind goes to the worst-case scenarios - the Belinda Emmetts, the Jane McGraths.

"You assume the worst, straight up."

Two lots of surgery and five weeks of radiation followed, and at Karla's 12-month check-up early this year, some more spots were found.

"Because I had radiation previously, I had to have a mastectomy. I probably could have waited but I thought 'I have a two-year-old child'," Karla said.

Daily life is now a totally different equation in this family.

"We've completely changed - the way we look at food, the way we look at chemicals in our house, our lifestyle," Karla said.

"There are things I have learned from this experience that I think everybody should know, not that I'm preaching ... but about food choices, about what's in our food, our baby products, our make-up.

"There's no direct correlation between cancer and some of this stuff, but the fact that there are high incidences of cancer, the fact that it's not genetic, makes you ask 'where's it coming from'?

"It makes you question everything you know.

"I have become my own advocate for health. I would encourage others to do the same."



Karla Steen had no family history of breast cancer. While trying to find out why she had it, she checked through some of the risk factors.

 Being Female

 Race - white women are more likely to develop breast cancer

 Excess weight - I've yo-yoed my whole life

 Late age of first pregnancy - (there's a higher risk if you're older than 30)

 Height - Some studies indicate women taller than 175cm have a greater risk

 Use of oral contraceptives

 Physical inactivity

 Consumption of alcohol

 Exposure to environmental chemicals



Topics:  breast cancer

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