Breast cancer survivor credits early mammogram for saving her life

Author: Erin Thomson

In August 2021, Kelly Klamer knew she had to make an appointment for her mammogram, but she kept putting it off.

Kelly’s mother is a breast cancer survivor and was 48 years old when she was diagnosed. She knew that children of breast cancer survivors should start their mammograms 10 years before their own mother was diagnosed, but she figured she had a bit more time.

That all changed when the Bay City woman she ran across a TikTok of a woman who had her first mammogram sharing her story. “I hit the follow button,” said Klamer, 39. “Little did I know that would change my life.”

Klamer continued to follow the woman on TikTok when one day she shared that a spot was found on her mammogram, and she needed further testing. She had an ultrasound and a biopsy that included a conversation between her and her nurse stating the fact that the earlier you catch cancer, the higher the survival rate. Klamer made an appointment for her first mammogram the next day.

“Between that August and November 2021, I ended up having two mammograms, an ultrasound and biopsy,” explained Klamer. “This all led to the dreaded phone call informing me that I had breast cancer. Things happened fast, and decisions needed to be made. Ultimately, I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy, with reconstruction.”

Since Kelly often deals with difficult situations with humor, she decided to give her tumor the name Earl, as she is a huge fan of the Dixie Chicks and their song ‘Goodbye Earl’.

“Naming my tumor gave me a song to sing if I was feeling anxious or nervous,” Klamer said. “I'm proud to say that I got my doctor and her nurse to even call my tumor Earl.”

The Friday before her surgery, Klamer threw a ‘Goodbye Earl’ party.

“Throwing that party was one of the best things I could’ve done,” said Klamer. “It helped me so much seeing all my friends and family there to love and support me through this journey.”

After Klamer’s surgery, she had a lot of time to think. She had to make a decision on what her life would be like after her cancer treatments.

“With my newfound confidence that I did not want to go away, I made a list of things I wanted to do,” said Klamer. “These things included riding a horse, ziplining, skydiving, and sharing my story to inspire others to get their mammograms.”

But the first thing she wanted to do was get her ears pierced.

“At 38 years old, I never pierced my ears,” said Klamer. “I wasn’t a fan of needles, but considering what I just went through, this would be cake. I knew hair loss from chemotherapy was going to be hard on me, but with some new fancy earrings, at least I could concentrate on that instead of my missing hair.”

While Klamer considers herself very lucky to have only minimal side effects with chemotherapy, a battle that she did have to deal with was depression. She found a therapist who really helped her sort through her feelings and emotions and find healthy ways to cope.

“Some of the ways I coped with my depression included journaling and creating my wall of love, which consisted of a lot of photos of people, dogs and cats that meant so much to me taped to my bedroom wall,” said Klamer. “It helped having those smiling faces staring at me as I was waking up or falling asleep.”

Klamer was especially grateful for the community that surrounded and supported her through her cancer journey.

“The amount of people that I would have never thought would reach out to me did,” said Klamer. “Even just the smallest actions meant the world to me. I had a friend reach out to me about doing a henna tattoo on my head. We created a whole event, and I invited friends over and they were able to get henna tattoos on their arms.

“Before losing my hair, my hairdresser took me through a hair journey. I always had long hair and never really strayed from my style, so needless say, I was freaked out. Going slow and changing my style every few weeks helped me out tremendously! Also, since I lost my eyebrows, I messaged a local studio to help me figure out how to draw them on, which they did for free.

“They even said that if my eyebrows did not come back to let them know and they would help me out with microblading. All of these kind gestures meant so much to me.”

On June 9, 2022, Klamer finished chemotherapy and was also officially done with radiation.

“I was so excited to ring the big sailor bell everyone rings when they have completed their treatments,” said Klamer. “It was a great way to celebrate.”

Dr. Ashley Richardson, breast surgical oncologist at McLaren Flint Comprehensive Breast Care, performed Klamer’s mastectomies and helped guide her oncologic care.

"Kelly has an amazing, uplifting spirit,” said Dr. Richardson. “Her upbeat attitude and positive outlook helped her immensely throughout her cancer journey. Kelly has gone through each aspect of her treatment, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, with grace and determination.”

Even though her treatments are now completed, Klamer’s journey is far from over.

“I have so much more that I want to do and discover,” said Klamer. “I want to keep pushing my limits.”

Klamer is currently continuing in her position as a Medical Records Clerk for McLaren Bay Region. She says she is feeling great and cherishing life and friendships more these days.

“I have more confidence now than I ever have,” said Klamer. “When you go through something like this, it really shows you what you’re made of and how much strength you truly have.”

Klamer is looking forward to her first cancer walk as a survivor this October and along with that, helping spread as much awareness as possible about the importance of mammograms.

“My major goal in sharing my story was to make breast cancer more real to people,” said Klamer. “I always had my reasons why I didn't want or felt I needed a mammogram. It’s so crucial for me to spread awareness of the importance of mammograms so others can get the care they need sooner rather than later.”

To learn more about breast cancer, mammography and how you can schedule your own screening mammogram online click here.