Kim was a co-founder of The Noble Circle Project. Her passion for more than survival, but to truly thrive in this world, is a guiding principle for The Noble Circle Project today. Kim left this world on November 3, 2005. Her legacy of courage and determination has left a mark on all our hearts – new and old. Here is her story, as it was written in 2003.
Writing your own cancer story is a bit daunting of a task. Where to begin? Well, let's start with how it all happened for me and continue through to present day.
Let me begin by saying that I was barely 31 years old when I was diagnosed. I was a new mom with lots of life ahead of me. So, how did I have breast cancer? Below is my story.
My son was born in June 1999 and I nursed him for the first six months of his life. Once I stopped, I found a lump in my left breast. I wasn't really concerned because I'd had mastitis once during nursing, and my breasts were quite large while I was lactating. But, about two weeks after discovering the lump, I went to my family doctor because I had bronchitis. At that time, I asked her if I should be concerned about the lump. Since it had only been a couple of weeks, she said it was likely milk ducts drying up so to watch it, but not to panic. She said that if it was still there in six to eight weeks, to get it checked out further. And, so my story goes. I went to see my OB/GYN in late February, and had him examine it. At that point, he actually felt it was an abscessed milk duct and was going to try to drain it. I wasn't really keen on a needle being stuck in my breast so I declined (little did I know then what would ultimately happen to my breast(s) – looking back the needle wouldn't have been so bad after all). Anyways, he sent me to a medical imaging place for an ultrasound because that lets them know if the mass is solid or fluid filled. While at Beavercreek Medical Imaging, they told me they also wanted a mammogram. I didn't care; I was like "whatever." Never did I imagine the nightmare that was about to begin.
Well, my follow up with my gynecologist was set for March 17 – St. Patrick's Day – a day I'll never forget. When my Gynecologist – whom I affectionately called Dr. B. entered the room, he was very solemn and not his typical jovial, joking, self. That was my first red flag. But, then he proceeded to say that the lump was "suspicious" and that he'd like me to see a surgeon to have it excised. OK. Panic hadn't totally set in yet. He was still talking a bit too vague for my liking, and I wanted to see the paperwork that he kept staring at. So, I reached over and grabbed my chart and under impressions at the bottom of the report – it stated "Highly suggestive of a malignancy." Now is when I panicked a bit. Dr. B. was trying to be reassuring that with my young age - I was only 31- and no family history that he doubted it was cancerous. I didn't hear a lot of the rest of what he said, but knew that I was scheduled to see the surgeon the following Monday. Well, the surgeon too wanted it out, so he scheduled the "excisional biopsy" for Wednesday. When I woke up from the anesthesia, my husband was looking a bit like he just lost a puppy, the nurses weren't really saying anything, my best friend was now there too, and I never saw the doctor again that day. I kept asking what was wrong and was told repeatedly to just relax and let the drugs wear off so we could go home. Finally, once released from recovery, I got my husband to tell me what was up. The doctor had walked out to the waiting room and told him, "Sir, your wife has cancer."
The whirlwind continued from there over the next two weeks. We bought books, called friends and family, looked online, sought other opinions but still had no real reassurances that all would be ok. Then, I found Dr. Rebecca Glaser and began to feel like I could get through all this. She not only became my surgeon, but my friend, and my advisor if you will. As part of her exam, Dr. Glaser wanted to review the films of the mammograms from both sides, but I had only had the left done. She immediately sent me for a film of the right, and did a thorough examination as well. In that exam, she found palpable lymph nodes, and did a needle biopsy on the spot to see if they too were cancerous. Once all of the final pathology reports came back, we knew that the "margins" on my left breast biopsy were not clear, so I'd need a mastectomy, and we knew that the lymph nodes were involved, so I'd need an axillary dissection as well. The mammogram of the right side came back "highly suggestive of malignancy" again and I begged Dr. Glaser to just take it off too. I wanted bilateral mastectomies; I didn't want another biopsy and more bad news. She agreed and on April 10, 2000 I had my surgery. The surgery involved bilateral mastectomies with immediate reconstruction, and an axillary dissection. It turned out that I had ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive ductal carcinoma, with seven positive lymph nodes. At that time, I also consulted with oncologists, and chose Dr. Mark Romer as the man who would help me beat this disease.
In the meantime, I had a bone marrow biopsy to confirm the cancer had not spread there as well. This was by far the worst thing I'd been through up to that point. I then spent several weeks healing before starting chemo. On May 2 I had my first of four treatments of Adriamycin and Cytoxin. True to what the doctor said, I lost my hair about 14 days into my chemo. Upon completion of four "fun filled" rounds of these drugs, I entered Miami Valley Hospital's bone marrow transplant unit for a clinical trial of high dose chemo with an autologous stem cell transplant. (My husband and I had chosen to go this route – along with our doctor because we felt that the most aggressive treatment was in order since I was so young). I spent a total of 18 days in the transplant unit, in isolation except for doctors, nurses, and my husband. I wasn't even allowed to see my son, and that was very difficult. After those 18 days, I was released to "get on with my life." I knew I'd have to heal more and then start six-and-a-half weeks of radiation, but if I could survive all of that chemo, then I was almost home free. The transplant was a real eye opening experience, and makes you even more immune suppressed than the normal chemo. So much so, that before I got out of the hospital my house had to be "sterilized" from top to bottom including getting the ducts cleaned. My dog had to move out for four months, as did my house plants. I had to wear a mask if I stepped outside, and NO –ONE at all could come over if they even thought they had a cold. On top of all that, the bathrooms needed to be scoured daily, and I could not change my son's diapers (he was now 14 months old) or even do dishes. So, thanks to family, friends, neighbors, church members, etc. we were able to get through these six weeks of major restrictions with little problems.
Next, my radiation began. Every day for six-and-a-half weeks I went in to be zapped. This wasn't nearly as difficult as the chemo had been. OK we are now to December – let's relax and enjoy the holidays! Wow! My battle was over and I could get to five years without a recurrence and be considered cured. Right? Well, I did get through the holidays, I was starting to feel much better, had more energy, completed my final reconstructive surgery, but yet I could not shake a nagging, dry cough that I had developed. Multiple chest X-rays and CT scans showed nothing, so I was put on steroids and treated as if I had pneumonia. But, once again, the cough wouldn't leave me. Then, in early February, the other shoe dropped, and something did show on a CT scan – a suspected metastasis to my lungs. To determine if the nodules that were throughout my lungs were indeed the breast cancer, I was scheduled for a lung biopsy. Little did I know that this entailed a long needle being inserted between my ribs and into my lung. And, they had to do it not once or twice, but rather six times. Ultimately, pathology did indeed show that the cancer had spread to my lungs.
This was a time when I didn't pull it together nearly as easily as before. Both Jeff and I were crushed and didn't know what to do. We once again read books, sought advice, looked online, got second opinions, but none of those things changed the fact that I now had Stage IV – incurable – metastatic breast cancer. Then, I met another metastatic breast cancer patient named Dorothy and her wonderful outlook was really the turning point when I finally decided that I wasn't going to be a statistic. Instead, I was going to ignore the statistics, and live TODAY! I WAS going to Survive, but not only that, I wanted to SURVIVE AND THRIVE! I was NOT going to give up.
One way I began to take control over the disease was to make some lifestyle changes to help me to focus on wellness. And, of course, I began chemotherapy again, in February, this time on a drug named Taxol. And, in April of that year, I walked in my first of several Race for the Cure 5K events in Cincinnati. Not only that, but I raised almost $2000 for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Well, that was over three-and-a-half years ago that I was told my disease was incurable. But, I'm still here, and I'm still thriving. How did I do it? With a lot of faith, and the love and support of my family and friends. Also, I have a terrific oncologist, and one that I feel believes in me and helps to elicit the healer in me. People sometimes tell me that I am brave to have gone through so much. Truthfully, I'm not brave. You do what you have to do. There is not a choice.
So, since February 2001 when I had my recurrence, I've been through at least six more chemo drugs, I've lost my hair a second time, and had pretty thin hair a third time, but I am here. People sometimes ask me why I keep going through treatment when there is no permanent cure? I ask myself this and there are no options other than death, which to me is NOT an option. Thanks to my strong faith I'm not really afraid of dying. But, I love life too much to quit. It is a race against time. Treatment buys me time until they come up with new drugs or new ways to treat this illness. I'm not quitting. My friends and family are stuck with me. Having the opportunity to watch my son grow puts a smile on my face and laughter in my heart. Furthermore, I've since walked in three more Race for the Cure events, this year collecting over $7500 myself. I feel that in some small way, I'm giving back to all breast cancer survivors by raising this much needed money for research on this dreadful disease.
Breast cancer for me is a chronic illness, but one that I am able to live with. I'm grateful for that, but I still pray daily for a cure. And, there is more to my story, and that is what I do outside of traditional medical treatments to focus on my wellness. I have learned to take time for myself, and to not sweat the small stuff. I have adopted a whole-foods vegetarian diet, and I try to eat organic foods when I can. I attend yoga classes, reiki healing circles, and qigong classes, I get massages and reflexology, and I utilize aromatherapy and guided imagery and relaxation techniques. And, I'm not alone on my journey to wellness.
In addition to my family and friends, I have gotten together with a wonderful group of women that believe we can regain our health through holistic practices that help us increase our chances of long term survival. For each of us, a cancer diagnosis was the starting point of a journey to learn about the healing process, and to take an active role in our own health and survival. While our medical doctors were providing the best medical treatments available, they were not equipped to answer our many questions about utilizing nutrition, supplements, and other natural healing methods that could assist in recovery. Along with those women, my "Noble Circle Sisters" we have formed a local non-profit group, The Noble Circle Project, to help other women reclaim their health using simple, natural, and inexpensive methods of self-healing. I like to help others because it helps me – it is yet another way that I can fight back. I like to give hope to others. I feel like I can inspire people because I'm doing so well myself, and I'm doing so well because I inspire people. It is a "win-win" situation for all. After all, I have breast cancer, it does NOT have me.
As I said before, I not only survive, but I thrive. I am part of an astonishing collection of women. I am so proud of my sisters, as we, alone and together live with breast cancer; I give thanks for my companions on this journey.
I have found courage, I have been given grace. I love my life.