October holds special meaning for Karissa Ma.
This October, she will celebrate her seventh wedding anniversary, the birth of her first child — and that she is a six-year breast cancer survivor.
In December 2004, Ma discovered a lump during a breast self-exam. Concerned, she made an appointment to see her OB-GYN for a mammogram.
Her doctor said a mammogram wasn’t necessary. She was too young, only 30, and had no family history of breast cancer.
Her husband, Erik, thought differently and urged her to insist on one.
On March 2, 2005, after a mammogram and lumpectomy, Ma was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.
A native Houstonian, Ma knew that there was only one place for her to seek treatment, MD Anderson’s Nellie B. Connally Breast Center.
Determined to beat her cancer, she told her oncologist in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology to “give me everything you’ve got.”
She underwent a double mastectomy, followed by five reconstructive surgeries and six months of grueling chemotherapy. Once cancer-free, Ma began a five-year hormone therapy regimen of tamoxifen (Nolvadex®) to reduce her risk of recurrence.
This precaution meant that she and Erik had to postpone their dream of starting a family.
“I was devastated,” she says.
A new home with the same care
In 2008, the Mas relocated to Phoenix.
Also moving to the Southwest was MD Anderson, an event that Ma celebrated in September when she gave a patient testimonial at the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center grand opening.
The 133,000-square-foot outpatient treatment center is located in Gilbert, Ariz., southeast of Phoenix, and was built in collaboration with Banner Health. As MD Anderson’s first full clinical extension outside of Greater Houston, it provides comprehensive, integrated and multidisciplinary treatment and care.
“It’s comforting to know that MD Anderson is in my backyard,” Ma says.
A birth on the horizon
In late 2010, Ma finished her tamoxifen regimen, and she and Erik focused on starting a family.
“After all that we’ve been through, I still can’t believe we’re having a baby girl!” she says.
Ma strives to be a sign of hope to other young breast cancer survivors and is involved with the Phoenix affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and the Young Survival Coalition™.
Through sharing her story, she wants young women to know that “life can go on after cancer.”