Patient Stories

Breast Cancer Survivor

Diane Larkin

Breast Cancer Survivor


  Diane Larkin, Kent, Washington
  • Diagnosed with breast cancer at 56 after her daughter received the same diagnosis
  • Cured with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation

Diane Larkin received her breast cancer diagnosis just before her daughter began chemotherapy treatment for the same diagnosis.

With tears in her eyes, Diane says: "Having Kelly diagnosed was the worst thing in my world. And then to find out I had it, too—it seemed unreal."

Diane had always been close to Kelly, the youngest of her three children, but the two women grew even closer as they faced cancer treatment together. "Sometimes when you go through cancer treatment," Diane says, "you feel so alone, and sometimes other family members and friends appear to be taking it lightly. But sharing this together, we know what it feels like. That made it easier. We could call each other and talk."

This closeness was apparent to Dr. Julie Gralow, the University of Washington Medicine and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance medical oncologist who treated both mother and daughter. "They were very supportive of each other," Dr. Gralow says. "Diane focused even more on how Kelly was doing than on herself sometimes—not unexpected for a mother to worry more about her child than herself."

Diane, a retired elementary school teacher, is quieter than her daughter and more inclined to worry. But when she discovered a lump in her breast—about the same time Kelly did—Diane waited to see her doctor because she had had two benign lumps in the other breast previously.

When she did go to her surgeon and had a mammogram and ultrasound, the doctor said her lump looked like a cyst and recommended waiting six months and repeating the mammogram. But by spring 2001, Diane went back to the surgeon and during the appointment reminded her that Kelly had breast cancer.

They decided to biopsy the lump. The day before Kelly's first chemo treatment, Diane called to tell her daughter that she, too, had cancer.

Diane decided to follow Kelly to SCCA for treatment because she was so impressed with the care Kelly was getting. She chose Dr. Gralow as her oncologist as well.

Teaming up

Diane says Kelly helped her through treatment. "Since Kelly did everything first, she was the strong one," Diane says. "She got me through it. She'd say, 'Now Mom, this is what is going to happen.'"

Mother and daughter had the same kind of cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, and had the same surgical procedures, lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy, to check the lymph nodes under the arm for cancer.

Diane had part of her care at SCCA and part at Valley General, because it was closer to home. SCCA surgeon Dr. David Byrd consulted with Diane's surgeon at Valley General and advised Diane's surgeon to do the lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy at the same time.

Diane and Kelly still don't know if their cancer was caused by one of the breast cancer genes. But Kelly does plan to investigate any genetic connection in the near future, because she has a new son as well as a sister and young nieces. Knowing whether she has the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene is important not only to determine her own future medical care, but also that of her relatives.