Navigating the Road to Hope on Young Mom's Cancer Journey

Author: Leslie Toldo

In October 2021, Bailey Kramer found a lump in her left breast. Around the same time, she started having painful episodes that seemed to get worse. 

“I was vacuuming and had a shooting pain in my left breast,” Bailey said. “As time went by, the pain came more often. It would happen a lot when I laid on my side.”

That November, the 27-year-old mother of one mentioned it to her OB/GNY during a routine visit.

“The doctor thought it might be a cyst related to my period,” Bailey said.

As weeks passed, the lump changed; Bailey said, “It went from a small lump to the whole side of my breast hardening up.  I knew this was more than a cyst.”

Bailey went in for an ultrasound in March 2022, and the results were abnormal.  On March 23, Bailey had a biopsy.  On March 30, Bailey learned she had invasive ductal breast cancer.

“My number one thing, I think, through this whole process was having to wait to find out,” Bailey said. “I just knew. I had some other symptoms like nipple retraction and veins becoming prominent.” 

The radiologist who performed Bailey’s ultrasound referred her to Dr. Ashley Richardson, a fellowship-trained breast surgeon at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint.

“I was nervous about what’s to come,” Bailey said. “I guess I was more trying to collect myself because I felt kind of lost.”

The road forward was uncertain as Bailey made her first visit to Dr. Richardson, but that quickly changed after Bailey spent a little time with the surgeon.

“She literally sat down with me and informed me about my breast cancer in great detail,” Bailey said. “Dr. Richardson knew right away what she was going to do. She had a plan.  I felt so much better.  I immediately trusted her.”

Taking that time with patients is critical, Dr. Richardson said, especially with a cancer diagnosis, which can make someone feel as if they are losing control of their lives.

“By giving a detailed explanation and laying out a plan/steps to move forward, you give patients some control back,” Dr. Richardson said. “It also helps ease their concerns and worries when you explain everything in detail and outline their course of treatment. Often, they worry about things that are not factual or myths they have read or heard. It's also important to clarify that there are several forms of breast cancer, and the treatment can vary depending on multiple factors.”

Genetic testing revealed Bailey carries the BRCA2 breast cancer gene mutation.  The BRCA 1 and 2 mutations are, according to the American Cancer Society, the most common cause of hereditary breast cancer.  After learning Bailey carries the mutation,  Dr. Richardson recommended a double mastectomy.

“Surgical decision-making is a detailed discussion and always a joint decision between the patient and me,” Richardson said. “There is a more than 60 percent increased risk of breast cancer, and the risk of developing a new breast cancer in the future, with a BRCA2 mutation.  Bailey wanted to proceed with mastectomy given her young age and elevated risk.” 

“I really anticipated the mastectomy because of my BRCA status. I was nervous about having the surgery, but I felt good about getting it done to lower my risk of getting it again,” Bailey said.

Bailey was a candidate for breast reconstruction, but that was a source of anxiety at first, as well.

“It was stressful. I thought I would have to find my own plastic surgeon,” Bailey recalled. “It was a relief when Dr. Richardson recommended one whom she worked with closely.  They had a plan and gave me complete details about what they were doing to do.”

After the mastectomy, Bailey had six months of chemotherapy, followed by radiation at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center.   Through it all, she said, Dr. Richardson was a constant source of support.

“The best thing about Bailey is her positive attitude,” Richardson said. “She has always been glass half full and brave with everything that comes her way. “

“I was not worried about living through this,” Bailey said. “I refused to have that mindset. I know so many people who live through this. It just wasn’t a thought in my mind.”

While Bailey’s cancer journey is not yet over, her determination is as strong as ever. She even lends support to other women facing the same battle.

“We are stronger than we think we are. That’s a fact. We just need that daily reminder.  I even have a bracelet that says, ‘Keep going,’” Bailey said.

To learn more about Dr. Ashley Richardson, the area’s only fellowship-trained breast surgeon, click here.