PORT CARBON, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY -- Karen Liebner's story about battling breast cancer has several chapters. The first was losing her own sister to the disease in 1990.
"I was sorry to see her going through it," Karen said. "And I made the decision then that if it ever did happen to me, I'd have a mastectomy and do whatever I had to do to save my life."
The second chapter began 14 years later. In March 2004, when she went in for her yearly mammogram, doctors found two lumps in her left breast. A biopsy was done the first week of April. One week later, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"That day was really rough," said Karen's daughter, Christa. "I talked to her the next morning again, and she said, 'I'm over it. I'm going to fight it. We'll get through this.'"
Two weeks after the diagnosis, Karen had a double mastectomy and had lymph nodes taken out for testing.
"He told me it was in my lymph nodes and diagnosed me as stage three," said Karen, who needed 16 weeks of chemotherapy and 37 radiation treatments.
"If she was having a bad day, I would have to try to cheer her up," said Karen's husband, Mark.
"When my daughter was little, she'd cry, and we told her, 'Go sit down until you're done crying.' When she was done, she'd say, 'I'm done this crying,'" said Karen. "So after I had my ten minute crying jag, I'd say, 'I'm done this crying. Let's start fighting again.'"
The third chapter of Karen's story affects future generations. Karen tested positive for BRCA2, a gene that causes breast cancer. Her daughter decided to not get tested, but started getting mammograms at age 27.
"I think if I would find out that I didn't have the gene, I wouldn't be as aggressive," said Christa.
Karen has been cancer free for five years. She says she's learned some lessons in life.
"Take it as it comes," she said. "If something hits you that you're not happy with, fight it."
Her husband says Karen no longer sweats the small stuff.
"It's almost like God's little blessing to her from it or to me," laughed Mark.
Karen encourages others battling breast cancer to stay positive.
"The love and support of family and friends, and the will to live is what gets you through it," she said.
Her story's final chapter is unwritten, but she has a lifetime left to fill those pages.
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