It’s been a challenging autumn for Palmer Lake resident Sarah Watkins and her family.
In June, Watkins, 31, noticed a tiny lump on her breast. She thought it was something that would just go away, but it grew rapidly and became increasingly painful.
In early August, she went to the Key Peninsula Free Clinic to get it checked out.
“The first thing I told them was that I don’t have health insurance and I don’t know what I’m going to do, but this really hurts,” Watkins said.
The clinic’s doctor, Dr. Jamie Payne, told Watkins she thought it was a fibroid cyst and that it would go away. But she ordered a mammogram for Watkins, just to be sure.
On Sept. 26, Watkins had a mammogram/ultrasound at the Carol Milgard Breast Cancer Center in Tacoma. “They were able to find a way to get a scholarship for me to get the mammogram and ultra sound for free,” Watkins said.
The doctor at the Milgard Center didn’t like the way the mammogram looked, and on Sept. 29, Watkins had a breast biopsy.
Two days later, on Oct. 1, she learned the biopsy results.
“I was on my way to pick up my son from school when they called and said, ‘You have cancer,’ so my husband wasn’t there when we found out,” Watkins said, choking back tears.
But her husband, Tristan, was with her when she met her oncology team at MultiCare later that same day, and has been by her side every step of the way since.
“I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma,” Sarah Watkins said. “It’s a very common invasive breast cancer. It starts in the milk duct and invades surrounding breast tissue. Triple negative means it does not respond to hormone therapy. It’s aggressive and it could kill me if I hadn’t caught it so early.”
On Oct. 9, Watkins started chemotherapy.
In early November, she had a BRCA analysis, a type of genetic testing that indicated that the cancer was caused by a genetic mutation. “It’s the same gene that Angelina Jolie carries,” Watkins said. “Somewhere along the family line I got this gene.
“It also means that the cancer can attack my ovaries.”
Watkins’ treatment regime includes eight weeks of heavy-duty chemotherapy, followed by a 12-week program of less invasive, easier chemo treatments.
Early next year, she’ll have a double mastectomy and a complete hysterectomy.
So far, the prognosis looks good, she said.
Because of her condition and lack of insurance, Watkins was referred to DSHS and qualified for help under the vitrine breast and cervical health insurance coverage, but her mother also set up a YouCaring account to help the Watkins family handle Sarah’s medical expenses.
The account is called “Sarah’s Goliath, Breast Cancer,” because her Bible study group was studying the story of David and Goliath when she learned of her condition. “The cancer is my Goliath,” she said.
The support Watkins has received from family and the Key Peninsula community has been “overwhelming,” according to Tristan Watkins.
“We knew that we were going to have a lot of support and that love and care would just be pouring out of the woodwork –– and it truly has,” he said.
“So many people, without question, without even asking us, have come with little bits of money or dinners or food or praise and it’s just been amazing,” he said.
He also said that Sarah has been fighting it with all she has, right from the very beginning.
Sarah’s advice to others is to not let lack of insurance stop you if you have a health problem.
“There is lots of help out there for women,” she said. “Health coverage should never stop a woman from going in and having an exam. That is the last thing all the doctors, nurses and assistants would let me worry about. Getting their patients better is their number one goal.”
If you find a lump and it’s painful, get it checked out, she advises.
“People told me if it’s painful, don’t worry about it. If I had done that, this would be a whole different story. Anything different, get it checked out.
“And if you don’t have insurance, there are programs out there to help, even the KP Free Clinic –– that’s where this began for me. Don’t let insurance stop you, and don’t be afraid of asking for help,” Watkins said.
To donate, visit: youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/sarah-s-goliath-breast-cancer/254649.