Karen Colella thought she had already faced her life’s battles.
She spent years struggling with fertility, only to have to fight for her life during a complicated pregnancy that not only nearly took her life, but also nearly took the lives of her unborn twins. Thankfully, she successfully gave birth to her healthy miracle twin boys on June 6, 2007. Two years later, though, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She fought again. After 6 months and 3 surgeries, Karen’s doctors declared her to be cancer-free and she happily went back to raising her young boys.
After all of these struggles, Karen thought she’d surely met her quota of misfortune.
Karen Colella’s Cancer Survival Story
When her boys were four years old, Karen was 37. She and her husband considered expanding their family and trying for a third child. Due to her history of cancer, Karen went in for routine, baseline testing before trying, including a standard mammogram even though they aren’t typically recommended for women under 40.
Karen was the first appointment that day, but the last to leave. Instead of a simple check-up, it turned into a day of testing that revealed two lesions in her right breast. One lesion in her milk duct was diagnosed as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), one of the earliest forms of cancer. The other, located in her upper breast, was stage one breast cancer.
“I was just completely blown away. I was terrified,” Karen shared in an interview with UncommonGood. “I had just had my miracle babies. I had just gotten over thyroid cancer. And there I was, now facing breast cancer.”
The road to recovery would be long and arduous. Karen ultimately decided to have a bilateral mastectomy, a viable option since her cancer hadn’t yet spread to the other tissue throughout her body. Karen endured several painful surgeries, recovery, and a reconstruction process that was halted by an infection that almost took her life again. And even when she was cancer-free, Karen underwent years of physical rehab to regain her range of motion and build strength again.
A New Perspective on Life
Karen not only persevered; she also found gratitude — and inspiration — in the experience.
“That mammogram — because I had it done early — allowed me to avoid harsh treatment. It extended my life because if I had waited three years, I would have been at a different stage of cancer…I would probably have had to go through several rounds of harsh chemotherapy or radiation,” Karen shared with UG. “Women need access to mammograms early. It reduces your options when you are forced to wait a little longer or choose to wait and not get treatment or screening. You have more options when you’re diagnosed early.”
Karen was given a new perspective on life that reshaped her entire approach to living. What made the biggest difference in her road to recovery? Early detection and a constant support system of family, friends, and doctors.
Breast Cancer Alliance
That’s why Karen is so passionate about her ongoing work with Breast Cancer Alliance. Following her recovery, she first began working with BCA as a volunteer in 2016. Now, she sits as co-chair of the Education and Outreach Committee. BCA’s fundamental mission aligns with the very things that saved Karen’s own life: providing access to early detection and diagnosis for women. And they also provide support and education for every step of the breast cancer journey — so patients and loved ones alike don’t have to go through it alone.
“They envelop you with this amazing energy,” Karen told UG. “They are such a great group of men and women. Everyone is so selfless, and everybody that’s involved in BCA has so many different strengths. Put together, we are a force. We are able to address a lot of issues that many women have when faced with a diagnosis. We are an instant family for sure.”
One of Karen’s favorite aspects of her job as co-chair of the Education and Outreach Committee is getting to see firsthand how BCA uses its funds to support women and breast cancer research. Their fundraising and awarded grants are consistently used to fund new doctors and their research in the field and yield more education and diagnostic support for women who may not necessarily have access due to financial barriers.
Karen is just one of many impacted by this unforgiving disease and Breast Cancer Alliance’s work. That’s why at UncommonGood, we’re so thrilled to be partnering with them to do more good!
Discover other ways you can volunteer or help BCA directly by visiting their website. And in the meantime, see for yourself how BCA is changing the outcomes of breast cancer every day on Facebook and Instagram.