Mother and Daughter Face Breast Cancer Diagnoses Together
February 17, 2023
Lauren Kawka and her mom, Maureen Dempsey, are an unstoppable duo, and they can often be found together—getting facials, going shopping and just enjoying each other’s company.
But when Lauren was 42, she got a phone call that rocked her world. Maureen was on the other end of the line.
“She told me she had breast cancer, and I just broke down and cried,” says Lauren, of Matawan, New Jersey. Coincidentally, Lauren was waiting for results from her own annual mammogram. “We have a family history of breast cancer, so my mother and I are both vigilant about getting checked.”
The next day, Lauren received another concerning call. Denis D’Angelo, M.D., radiologist at Bayshore Medical Center, had seen something suspicious on her screening mammogram and asked her to come in for a diagnostic mammogram and a breast ultrasound.
Dr. D’Angelo saw a mass on Lauren’s left breast and arranged to do the biopsy right away. “I worked with my team to make sure we had time to do the procedure immediately,” he says.
After this visit, Lauren learned she too had cancer—the same type, the same size, at almost the exact same place in the same breast as her mother.
Fear, Then Comfort
Lauren was beside herself. “My mom had cancer, now I had cancer—my brain immediately went to, ‘I’m going to die. My mom’s going to die. Who will be around to take care of my kids?’” she says.
But Lauren’s mindset changed the minute she met Debra Camal, M.D., breast surgeon at Bayshore Medical Center and Riverview Medical Center. “The purpose of the first visit is for patients to get to know me and make sure they’re comfortable,” says Dr. Camal. “We usually sit together for a little over an hour, and I outline what type of cancer they have, what stage it’s in and what the prognosis is. No matter how cool and level-headed you are, cancer is a frightening word. Having that type of information can help bring people down from that scary spot.”
That’s exactly what happened with Lauren: “Dr. Camal was so confident, which made me feel like I was going to be OK,” she says.
A Plan of Attack
The first stage of treatment for Lauren—lumpectomy with a sentinel node biopsy—made her feel even more assured. “Every nurse, every doctor and everyone I interacted with at Bayshore was so caring. They just kept telling me I was going to be OK, so it was impossible to think anything other than I was going to be OK,” she says.
After the surgery, Lauren got good news. There was no evidence of cancer in the lymph nodes, and her oncotype testing showed she was at low risk for recurrence. That meant radiation rather than chemotherapy was the next step. Lauren’s mom was with her every step of the way. “It was great having her there to take care of me,” Lauren says.
When Maureen’s turn for surgery came a few weeks later, Lauren played caregiver for her. “Lauren took such good care of me,” says Maureen. “She knew what to say, what to do and exactly what I needed, because she’d just been through the very same thing,” she adds.
While at different hospitals, Lauren and her mom went through radiation “together” as well. “Every time I’d drive to treatment at Riverview I’d call her, and every time she was on her way to treatment, she’d call me,” says Lauren.
Early Detection Key
Today, five years later, both women remain cancer free. They both credit their annual mammograms for their positive outcome.
“I know women hear it over and over again, and they may even be tired of hearing it. But by getting your mammograms on schedule, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to find every cancer at the earliest moment it can be found,” Dr. Camal says.
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our sources: Denis D’Angelo, M.D., and Debra Camal, M.D.
- To make an appointment with a breast specialist near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.