February 14, 2019, was the day Carla Walker found out she had breast cancer.
“Terrified, that’s all I can say. Crying, shaking, nervous, worried. Calling somebody for support to come and just hold me like I was a child,” she said.
Carla did everything by the book. She got yearly mammograms along with MRI screenings every six months. But one of the screenings caught her doctor’s eye.
“I got a phone telephone call that said that my MRI had something suspicious in it,” she said. “My biopsy was cancerous.”
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
Her cancer was caught at stage one. It was early enough for the mother of two to get a double mastectomy with no need for chemotherapy or radiation.
“I am the fourth out of five daughters to have breast cancer,” Carla said. “There was no way I was going to chance this again.”
BREAST CANCER AWARENESS
Three of Carla’s sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer.
“My sister Susan was diagnosed at approximately age 40,” she said. “My sister Debbie was diagnosed at approximately 60. My sister Peggy was diagnosed around 65 and myself at 57.”
This happened despite them getting genetic testing to see if they were high-risk for the disease. They all tested negative.
“It was a lot of shock,” she said. “We didn’t understand it. We tried to wrap our heads around it ... We followed every protocol that you’re supposed to follow. We did it. We followed all the rules.”
Carla says the biggest blow came a few weeks after her surgery.
“My daughter called and said ‘Mom, I have a lump,’” she said.
Within one year of her diagnosis, both of her twin daughters, who were 34, were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Carla says the emotional toll weighed heavy.
“I wasn’t sleeping,” the mother said. “I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t exercising. I wasn’t anything. I was barely existing.”
Dr. Starr Mautner with Miami Cancer Institute helped treat Carla and says her story should serve as a lesson to other women.
“If you know that you have a strong family history of breast cancer, make sure that you are being proactive and at least getting an annual screening mammogram,” Mautner said.
That early detection saved Carla’s life along with her sisters and daughters who are all now cancer-free.
“It is not a death sentence,” she said. “We have all survived. We’ve all done beautifully, we’re carrying on.”