A Moment’s Notice

Early detection allows for quick breast cancer treatment

Published in Winter 2018

Katrina Shaw knows that although you can prepare, you can’t always predict the future. Originally from Long Island, New York, she’d come to Baltimore to attend Morgan State University before beginning a career in radio and media. One night, she went to see a friend’s band and ended up talking with a saxophone player named Warren; they’ve now been married eight years. Her active involvement in her church, community and work kept her life happy and full. Then, at her annual mammogram in September 2013, they found a mass in her left breast.

Shaw had always been careful. She had fibrocystic breast tissue, which can show up as lumps on screening mammograms and require regular monitoring. Because she’d been getting regular mammograms, it was easy to compare the lump with images from previous years and see that something had changed. A followup ultrasound showed blood flow in her left breast’s mass, which is indicative of cancer.

A biopsy shortly after confirmed it was breast cancer. Shaw’s primary care provider recommended she visit the Johns Hopkins Breast Center at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Shock, Then Action

Shaw was understandably nervous, but left her first meeting with breast surgeon Mehran Habibi, M.D., feeling relieved. “He said I was really blessed, because the cancer was caught early,” says Shaw. “He said I had a good radiologist, because the mass could not be seen on a regular mammogram screening.”

The breast cancer diagnosis surprised Shaw, since she had no family history of cancer at all, but “I felt really good knowing I had a lot of options.” As oncology nurse practitioner Marshalee George, Ph.D., AOCNP, explains, only 12 to 15 percent of women who develop breast cancer have any family history.

After that, things moved quickly. “Delays give cancer time to spread and travel,” says Dr. George. “The behind-the-scenes navigation at the Breast Center helps connect patients to care quicker.” Shaw was becoming increasingly anxious about pain in her right breast. She consulted with a plastic surgeon at the Breast Center and decided to have a double mastectomy to remove both breasts, followed by breast reconstruction with implants.

Path to Recovery

Shaw’s first operation in November was a co-surgery that included the double mastectomy and tissue expander placement to create space for the implants. The surgery took four hours, which left her husband, himself a prostate cancer survivor, “on pins and needles.” After testing confirmed all traces of the cancer had been removed, she had her final breast reconstruction surgery in February of 2014.

Today, Shaw is a licensed Zumba instructor and pursuing her certification to be a health coach. She encourages other women to get regular testing, and women with fibrous breast tissue to get extra screening. She says, “I had this life-changing event, and I want to inspire and help others” through education and motivation. She credits the staff at the Breast Center for their excellent care, which made an extremely stressful time in her life easier. When she hits her five-year anniversary next year, she says, “I’ll really celebrate.”