Survivor Spotlight – Tara Ripka: Early Detection Saved Her Life

Posted By on May 15th, 2012 at 11:24 am | 41 comments.

I was 27 years old when I felt a pain in my left breast and discovered a lump. I wasn’t really worried about it because I believed I was too young to have breast cancer. A month later at my annual check-up I told the doctor about the lump. He sent me for a needle biopsy which found irregular cells. Then they sent me for a lumpectomy but still no one, from my doctor to the surgeon, seemed concerned. In fact, before I went under anesthesia for my lumpectomy the doctor said, “It’s not cancer. You’re too young. I’ll owe you dinner if I’m wrong.” He still owes me that dinner.

That was June 2000, two days before my husband and I were scheduled to move out of the house we had sold. We were moving in with my parents to wait for our new house to be built. That turned out to be a good thing because there’s nothing like having your parents take care of you when you’re sick. Whenever my husband was working on the new house, my parents were there for me.

My sister was a great support to me too. After a second surgery to get clear margins and a sentinel node biopsy, I couldn’t move my arm and dress myself. I was too stubborn to ask the nurses to help me so I called my sister and, of course, she came.

Radiation and chemotherapy followed the lumpectomy. My first chemo treatment was on August 9, 2000. I remember the date because it was my parents’ wedding anniversary. I didn’t get sick from the first treatment but a few days later I remember drinking a soda that I thought was flat. Then all kinds of food lost its taste, including chocolate! That really made me mad! The next two chemo treatments didn’t go as smoothly but I knew it was what my body needed to get better. By the 4th and final chemo treatment, the new home was completed and ready to move in. I couldn’t have handled all of that without my family.

At 27, I had been thinking that I was invincible. I learned very quickly that none of us are. I appreciate life and my family so much more now. I had to wait for two years after completing chemo treatment before getting pregnant, so we could be sure that the chemo was out of my system. My husband Todd and I now have two daughters, Shaylin and Sadie. I will do everything in my power to keep myself healthy and I will continue to fight for a cure for my daughters’ futures.

I have a mammogram and a breast MRI every year. I’ve had genetic testing and tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. That means I am still at a greater risk for recurrence. I may decide to have a double mastectomy at some time in the future. I had my ovaries removed which dramatically reduced my risk of ovarian cancer. The hardest part of that surgery was instantly going through menopause at the age of 35.

A lot of my friends are under 40 and haven’t starting having mammograms yet. I remind them that we’re never too young and encourage them to do breast self-exams and to be aware. And I tell everyone that if you know someone who is going through cancer, you can make a difference for them. You can help with their childcare or household chores, cook a meal, offer a ride, send a greeting card, make a phone call, or give them a hug … all are things you can do to support them.

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