Breast cancer turns a Bay City woman into an advocate for early screening

A TikTok video may have saved Kelly Klamer’s life.

Klamer had a family history of breast cancer, so her doctor urged her to get a mammogram in her 30s, which is younger than the recommended age.  

“I kept putting it off and putting it off,” Klamer says. Despite watching her mother battle breast cancer at 48, Klamer didn’t feel any urgency about the screening. “It’s something that just doesn’t click. That just happens when you’re older – I’m fine.”

A TikTok video poking fun at mammography, though, finally inspired her to make the appointment. The video told the story of a women finding a lump and getting a biopsy.

“What struck me was that her nurse said ‘The earlier you catch it the better your chances are,’ and she was actually younger than me.”

At 38, Klamer was diagnosed with Her2 Negative Breast Cancer, becoming one of 264,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer every year. The Centers for Disease Control recommends women of average risk get their first mammogram years later than 38. For the full guidelines, visit the CDC website.

Klamer got the news in an email that she had a tumor. From there, she had an ultrasound, a biopsy and eventually surgery on Dec.13. Her doctor encouraged her to have a double mastectomy because of the risk of cancer recurring in the other breast, and she agreed.

Since her diagnosis and surgery seven months ago, she’s been through chemotherapy and is completing radiation.

Kelly Klamer was diagnosed with breast cancer before her 40th birthday. Now, she's trying to help other young survivors find hope when facing cancer.From the beginning, Klamer was determined to survive, even though she says “I’m not a fighter.” Klamer drew strength from the people around her. Now, she’s becoming an advocate to help others facing the disease.

When she was diagnosed, Klamer didn’t realize how many young women are going through similar situations. Getting involved in a local support group, and hearing the stories of how women her age are living life, encourages her.

“I couldn’t get it through my head – everybody I ever knew that had breast cancer was on the older side,” she says.

Klamer uses her experience to encourage young women to get tested early. She tries to inspire other people to fight against cancer. She lets them know they can enjoy life in the midst of cancer treatment.

As one of many thousands, Klamer stands out from the crowd because of her upbeat attitude and her desire to help other young women by her experience, says Laurie Prochazka, who works with Klamer at McLaren Bay Region. “Her zest for life is evident in her positive attitude and her way of finding the good in every situation.”

Klamer works in Medical Records at McLaren Bay Region, and sought treatment at Karmanos Cancer Insitute in Flint. “Bay City didn’t have a breast surgeon at the time,” she says, but she found a team of supportive people in Flint. “I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, but the amazing people I’ve met that I would not have met otherwise have meant the world to me.”

Her treatment for breast cancer may be coming to an end soon, but Klamer says she still has to be on the lookout for other cancers. Genetic testing shows she has a predisposition for other cancers.

Through this experience, Klamer says she’s learning to be more patient, giving people more latitude, and understanding that everyone has something they’re living through that nobody else knows. She’s also learned that people with positive attitudes have the most successes in treatment.

Klamer says she also found there is a mental health aspect that needs to be addressed, but she’s got support from all sides. Her medical team, family, and friends each are very supportive. Still, the process took a mental toll, so she sought out counseling.

Today, even as she continues treatments, Klamer says she’s not giving into any fears and is making plans for her future. “I have a whole a list of things I want to do, and I don’t want to focus on what I’m missing.” The list includes riding a zip line and skydiving. It also keeps growing.

In May, Klamer was one of three local survivors featured during the Detroit Tiger’s Pink Out the Park event. Her upbeat attitude and desire to help others earned Klamer a call out during the game, an on-camera interview, and a photo with Tiger mascot, Paws.

“She was identified for this special recognition due to her upbeat attitude, her story as a younger breast cancer patient and survivor, her interest in inspiring other breast cancer survivors, and encouraging early detection through self-exams and screenings,” says Prochazca.

Klamer says one of the most exciting parts of the evening was receiving her pink bat from Paws, but also seeing the sea of pink in the park in support of cancer survivors.

Looking ahead, Klamer is excited about her next birthday.

“I turn 40 next March, and am planning this huge party just to keep me focused on something,” she says. “I want to invite all my friends and family just to say thank you, and just pink-out the Masonic Temple. I was so deathly afraid of turning 40, but I wanted to make it a celebration instead of something to dread.”

Keeping a positive attitude in the face of a very negative disease, Klamer says she has re-evaluated some things she thought she knew about herself.

“What have I learned from this? I learned that I can do stuff, I am confident, I am brave, I am strong. It’s like I am all these things that before I would have thought I am not.”