No woman wants to make the decisions that Karen Bertrand was forced to make about post-cancer breast reconstruction. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, Bertrand of Penfield, N.Y., had to decide whether to live without her breasts.



“That was something I knew I didn’t want to do,” she said.



Bertrand had already undergone in 2006 a single masectomy that removed the breast where she first found a five-centimeter lump about one year earlier. For safety reasons, she decided to have it removed and replaced with tissue taken from her stomach.

No woman wants to make the decisions that Karen Bertrand was forced to make about post-cancer breast reconstruction. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, Bertrand of Penfield, N.Y., had to decide whether to live without her breasts.

“That was something I knew I didn’t want to do,” she said.

Bertrand had already undergone in 2006 a single masectomy that removed the breast where she first found a five-centimeter lump about one year earlier. For safety reasons, she decided to have it removed and replaced with tissue taken from her stomach.

As someone with no family history of breast cancer, she was shocked to find that the hard lump on her breast she found in the shower was cancerous. The fact that it had only been a month since her last mammogram only added to her surprise.

“I did everything I was supposed to do and they still couldn’t find it,” said Bertrand. “This lump shows up, and I’m like, what’s that?”

An ultrasound showed that her suspicions were correct, and an MRI confirmed that the lump was cancerous. For the next year she underwent treatment until all traces of the disease were gone. It’s been five years since she was first diagnosed, and Bertrand is still cancer-free.

Her advice to women like her and their families is simple.

“There’s a lot of help out there — you’re not alone,” she said.

And while friends and family provided the immediate support during her illness, she wanted to give back to the community, specifically Rochester, N.Y.-area organizations like the Breast Cancer Coalition, American Cancer Society and Gilda’s Club, who helped her during the most difficult time in her life.

The ACS, for example, held a “Look Good, Feel Better” clinic for chemo patients to learn how to apply makeup in lieu of having no eyelashes or eyebrows. The research and programming to help people like her inspired her to do more.

“I feel like I’ve benefited from the research that was done before, and now I’m supporting research to help people who will benefit from it in the future,” she said.

In 2010 she participated in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Rochester, where close to 10,000 people touched by the disease form teams to walk and help raise money for ACS. To make her team stand out from the sea of pink shirts during the event she enlisted others for help.

Her daughter Kasey, a graphic design student, designed a special logo and the shirts were printed by Kathe D’Alfonso of Penfield, who runs her own promotional screen printing and apparel embroidery business called Expozures.

Together they started a website with the help of local web designers at Pro Site Plus to sell their team shirts online to support ACS. Last year they raised more than $20,000 for the organization, and this year they expanded the selection to include brown and pink T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and long-sleeve shirts to broaden the appeal to both men and women.

D’Alfonso is also a cancer survivor, and says the opportunity to give back to cancer research was a cause she could get excited about.

“I love every project that comes across my desk, and I think it was an honor,” she said D’Alfonso.

Bertrand recalls the way loved ones delivered home-cooked meals to her home when she was sick, and the time her friend sent her a box of colorful clown wigs during her chemo treatments to help cheer her up.

No matter the obstacle the disease presents, it’s never an experience one goes through alone.

“It’s very humbling,” she said.