Wife, romantic, idealist
ABOUT KATE, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- I find joy in every moment of life.
- I married my best friend, Jim. He was everything I ever wanted: strong, caring, super smart, and always there when I needed him.
- I love my life, and I’m not ready for it to be over. I don’t take it for granted.
My History With Breast Cancer
When I was a little girl, I began planning my wedding. I loved the idea of falling in love and dreamed about the magical day I would say “I do.”
On December 24, 2009 in the dining room of our house, in front of our parents and dog, I married my best friend, Jim. He was everything I ever wanted: Strong, caring, super smart, and always there when I needed him. This was not the wedding I had planned as a little girl, however. That wedding now only existed in an old binder, and it was all because of one thing.
It started with a painful lump in my left armpit and a phone call from my doctor about 10 days later, confirming what I had been too afraid to accept since I had the biopsy.
“I’m so sorry to ruin your evening, but it’s cancer.”
I wanted to scream at him, “Ruin my evening? You just ruined my life!” I was 28 years old—way too young to have cancer. I phoned Jim at work. No answer. I called my mom. No answer. My body was shaking, and I could barely breathe. I needed to tell someone. Finally, my mom called back, and I said out loud for the first time, “I have cancer.”
From that day on, I made it my mission to be a star patient—do every treatment, take any pill, and have any surgery my doctors recommended. I started chemo a week after our wedding, but after 5 months, it had done almost nothing to shrink the size of the tumors in my breast, leaving a mastectomy as our only option. I decided on a double mastectomy.
To call that surgery traumatic is a huge understatement. The only good part was that the cancer was out of my body, and I felt I could finally say I was cancer-free.
Having cancer changed me. Before cancer, I was content to live what I considered a mundane life. Because when you’re 28 years old, you still think you have decades more to live. That is, until something like cancer is suddenly staring you in the face, forcing you to think about your mortality. Cancer taught me that a future is not guaranteed to you. I wanted to have adventures and dream bigger. So, in 2013, my husband and I packed up our lives and made the giant leap from Kansas to Florida.
Life in Florida was perfect. I was healthy, had a great job, a wonderful home, and a beautiful backyard pool that I spent hours relaxing in whenever I had the chance. My husband and I went on cruises, traveled to Disney World, and spent weekends on the beach. Having been through so much, I felt like I deserved this happiness.
Being Diagnosed With MBC
One July, I began to notice this weird feeling in my hip. I had learned the first time around to not disregard any symptom, no matter how insignificant it might seem. I made an appointment with my gynecologist and requested an ultrasound. I left having been told I had nothing to worry about.
Months passed, until one day, I began to feel a severe pain on my upper left side.
I was relieved when my GP ordered a CT scan. I don’t know what I expected the results to show, but I know what I definitely DIDN’T expect.
“Kate, you beat it before, you can beat it again.”
No. Not this time.
“You are strong. You can do this.”
I’m so scared. How can it be in my bones? Why is this happening again?
An appointment was scheduled for the next week with my oncologist. My husband and I went to Disney World on Saturday as planned, but even the “happiest place on Earth” couldn’t cheer us up. We had done everything we were supposed to do, but the cancer had come back. I had fought it once, but was I good enough to fight it again?
By the day of my oncologist appointment, we were cried out and resolved to start our battle against my cancer—cancer that hadn’t just spread to my bones, but to my liver as well. A liver biopsy and PET scan confirmed we were dealing with the same cancer as before—only, it had metastasized.
Starting Treatment With IBRANCE
I remember sitting in the exam room, listening to my husband and oncologist discuss treatments. I remember putting little to no effort into deciphering all the technical terms and scary thoughts, but I heard something mentioned about a treatment plan—IBRANCE in combination with letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor—for the first-line treatment of postmenopausal women with HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer. The doctor explained that, in order to take the medication, I would need to go into menopause. No problem. Sign me up. Together, we talked about the possible benefits and common and serious side effects of IBRANCE, such as low white blood cell counts, infections, and nausea. I told my doctor I wanted to give IBRANCE plus letrozole a try. A nurse gave us information on a co-pay program through Pfizer, for those who are commercially insured, called the Co-Pay One Savings Program, which helped make the medicine more affordable.
It took about a month before I was deemed menopausal, and then I was given the go-ahead to start taking IBRANCE and letrozole. My doctor checks my white blood cell count every month, and sometimes it has been lower than she would have liked. I have also experienced other common side effects including fatigue.
I have been taking IBRANCE and, for the most part, my doctor and I have been satisfied with the results. The first PET scan I had after starting treatment was nerve-racking. I didn’t know what to expect, and, of course, I was so scared it would show that the cancer had spread even further. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
This time around, I resolved to focus my energy on being positive. Unlike during the first cancer experience, I didn’t allow myself to sink into depression. No doubt there were plenty of tears and times of sadness, but I stayed positive and determined. I find joy in every moment of life and continue to have big dreams.
My positive attitude could not have been maintained for long, however, without Jim. Having his love and support, in sickness and in health, kept me going during some of my lowest times. Jim had lost his father after a stroke and his grandmother to cancer. He has been determined to do everything in his power to keep me going—often, that meant just holding me while I cried.
I wouldn’t have chosen to have cancer, but I do love the person I’ve become because of it. Cancer has undoubtedly made me special. A lot of things had to happen for me to still be here, which gives me reason to believe my life has some sort of purpose. I love my life, and I’m not ready for it to be over. I don’t take it for granted. I make sure to take a moment every day to look at the world around me, and just breathe in the beauty.