Local teacher, a breast cancer survivor, helps promote awareness

At the age of 38, Karen Yeager was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Just before she was diagnosed, the honors math teacher at Huntington Middle School in Warner Robins recalled that a friend about her age also discovered she had breast cancer.

“It was a shock,” she said. “I had heard of younger people being diagnosed, but I never would have thought someone my age would have been.”

During a self-breast exam in the shower in spring of 2006, Yeager found a lump. Without a family history of breast cancer, she was not due for regularly scheduled mammograms until she was 40, according to recommendations from the American Cancer Society.

She didn’t make a check-up to see a doctor until late July, right before the school year resumed, where a doctor found a tumor in her breast under her lymph nodes.

“(With) all the fears of what’s going to happen, you hear the C-word, you fear the worst,” Yeager said.

The diagnosis led to six surgeries, including a partial mastectomy and a hysterectomy, 16 rounds of chemotherapy from September 2006 through February 2007, six weeks of radiation and about a year on the drug Herceptin.

Yeager’s family and friends even threw a “back porch buzz party” to shave her head in preparation for chemotherapy.

To get through her treatment, Yeager tried hard to “keep a positive attitude” with the help of “family, friends and God,” she said.

Now 41, she has been a cancer survivor for about three years.

During the first year she was diagnosed with cancer, family members ran in her honor at Susan G. Komen Central Georgia Race for the Cure. The second year after her diagnosis, Yeager ran in the race.

In 2008, she volunteered with I Am The Cure, which promotes early detection of breast cancer through chants such as “Start the fight by living right!” and “See your doctor, learn the risk!”

Her husband, Keith, and her sons, ages 11 and 13, will be running in the 10th annual race Saturday at Macon’s Central City Park, Yeager said.

Not only has she received moral support from friends and family, she’s also seen it from her students.

In September 2006, the day before she began chemotherapy, she had to attend a faculty meeting. When she got there, everyone was wearing pink. Students sent her cards throughout her time of treatment.

Earlier this month, Huntington Middle held a Pink Out Day. The students also will have the opportunity to participate in a fundraiser Oct. 30, with the proceeds going toward Relay for Life.

Beyond her local involvement in the Komen Foundation, Yeager has attended national events, including the Affiliate Leadership Conference in Dallas, Texas, last year and the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C., in June.

In Washington, she met Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill, who has been involved with breast cancer awareness efforts for years.

“It was just very exciting. They were very sincere about it. They’re adamant about the cause,” Yeager said of the Bidens.

In May, Yeager was selected by Komen Race for the Cure and Major League Baseball as the honorary bat girl for the Atlanta Braves.

She received a pink bat and a jersey and yelled “Play ball!” before the game.

Yeager is committed to raising awareness to others and showing support for women and families dealing with the disease.

“The key is early detection,” Yeager said. “The earlier you find it, the more likely it is you’ll survive.”

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.