Wife, scholar, optimist
ABOUT KAYE, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- By the time I was 27, I had met an amazing man and completed my master’s degree in Communication Theory while working full-time and teaching courses.
- At 28, I had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.
- Living with cancer goes beyond just having a positive outlook. It’s trying to find the positive, sometimes in spite of every other good or bad thing going on.
- I do whatever I can to preserve what I can of my life before cancer, but I cut myself a little bit of slack when I can’t do it all.
Growing up in Southern California, I always felt special. It wasn’t because I was really cute, or really smart, or even really talented—I grew up in a predominately Chinese community, surrounded by tons of people who looked nothing like me. Imagine me, a brown girl, week after week going to Chinese school, performing Chinese cultural dances, and competing in Chinese language speech competitions—spouting fluent Mandarin Chinese! That, however, wasn’t the only reason I was memorable as a child. I was a daydreamer, living with my head in the clouds.
Not much changed as I grew up. I was a go-with-the-flow, live-in-the-moment type of person with an often-changing, mostly fuzzy plan for my future. However, in 2008, that all changed when I met my husband, Chris. He was the complete opposite of me. I felt myself falling in love—not just with Chris, but with how clearly I could see my future when he was a part of it.
The course of my life changed as we got engaged, began living together, and started our lives hand-in-hand. For the first time, I actually had an agenda, and I found myself motivated to get things done. I was a hammer, and life was a series of nails that I was going to indiscriminately bang out.
However, it didn’t take long before my life came to a screeching halt. A few weeks after my graduation ceremony, I felt a lump near my armpit while I was shaving. After a few days of obsessively feeling myself up, I decided to show Chris the lump. We waited a few weeks to see if it would go away, and when it did not, I took myself to the doctor.
Shocked By Breast Cancer
The afternoon of the biopsy, I remember leaving work early to get it done. I remember how painful it was because the numbing agent was wearing off. I remember the radiologist asking me if I could just stay still, she’d finish as quickly as possible. As I got dressed, she went out to the lobby to ask Chris if he’d come with me to get the results the following Tuesday. That is so nice that they do that, I thought. I had no idea that she already had an idea of what the results would be, so she’d balked when I told her that I planned to come alone.
First thing in the morning, I walked into the women’s center with Chris. I was ready to get in, get out, and get to work. I didn’t feel nervous until the nurse walked in with a grim-looking radiologist, who handed me a packet with my biopsy results.
“…As you can see, it did come back as cancer…”
Navigating Next Steps
The next week consisted of a dizzying amount of appointments with an oncologist and a surgeon, and my case went to a tumor board to determine the best course of treatment. My main concern was how we could be sure there wasn’t cancer in other parts of my body. My surgeon was quick to assure me that it probably wasn’t. Relenting, he said he would order a PET scan if it would make me feel better.
At this point, I had decided to get a second opinion at a large cancer center about an hour away. The moment I met the breast surgeon, I was in love.
She explained the basics of breast cancer and that my treatment would include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. And then a hand stuck out from the door, handing the PET scan report to my doctor. I watched as her eyes traveled down the page, nodding at each section. “Oh…” she said, turning the page. What felt like hours passed before I learned the scan had found a spot on my spine, and it was cancerous.
Everything changed in that moment. I was 28 years old, I had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, and I would be on treatment for the rest of my life.
Over the next few months, I experienced the most emotional pain. I had no idea how I was supposed to act or feel. I felt like I was losing all the best parts of my life, while simultaneously taking them away from my husband—having children, raising them, planning a future, retirement. Even to this day, I ask myself why I waited to have children. Any reason I had before seems ridiculous and inconsequential.
Finding My Way
Over time, I went from being constantly scared and sad to being scared and sad some of the time. I took more and more comfort in everyday things—going to work, cooking dinner, having brunch with friends, and traveling with my husband. I am not going to tell you that it has been easy. It has been so difficult, but each day holds moments in which I don’t remember that I have breast cancer until I see my mastectomy scar in the bathroom mirror. There aren’t just good days and bad days—there are bad minutes and good hours; amazing moments and terrible ones.
I have an amazing doctor and nurses who answer every question I bring to my appointments. I have a loving husband and also wonderful friends who come to my aid before I can for myself.
People say in tough times, you find out who your friends are. What I found out is that I have a lot more friends than I thought! People popped out of the woodwork to help—like when Chris has meetings at work, or when I needed to research my health insurance benefits; they even threw me a “surgery shower” before my bilateral mastectomy. Learning to let go and accept help has impacted my life in such a positive way.
Right after I was diagnosed, I started hormone receptor blocking treatments that managed to keep my cancer at bay—until one of my routine PET scans showed progression. I was crushed—I was counting on that treatment to work forever!
That’s when I heard about IBRANCE, in combination with fulvestrant—a treatment for women with HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer who, like me, have progressed following hormonal therapy. I trust my doctor’s opinion, so because my oncologist recommended IBRANCE as a good option for me, I decided to give it a try.
The insurance specialist at my oncologist’s office put me in touch with the specialty pharmacy and I found out the monthly co-pay would be high. While I was hunting for answers online, I stumbled upon the Pfizer Oncology Together Co-pay card, which is for patients who are eligible, commercially insured, and need help with their co-pay. What was great was that, after putting in my information, I was able to print out the savings card right then and there. Chris and I are a lot happier with the co-pay we’re paying now.
I experienced side effects, like low white blood cell counts, some hair thinning, and mouth sores. I worked with my doctor to help manage them by adjusting the dosage. Some patients have also reported experiencing other side effects, such as infections and fatigue. My doctor and I were happy with my results. Of course, this is my experience, and not everyone’s will be the same. I am no longer taking IBRANCE with fulvestrant and am now receiving a different treatment.
Focusing On The Positive
Since my diagnosis, I have worked full-time in the career center at a community college, I have gone to the gym when I feel up for it (so, very sporadically), I run errands, and I enjoy new and exciting things in my life. I do whatever I can to preserve what I can of my life before cancer, but I cut myself a little bit of slack when I can’t do it all.
As much as I’ve loved living with a focus, and learning to embrace a good plan, I think there’s something to be said for a go-with-the-flow, live-in-the-moment kind of lifestyle after a cancer diagnosis. In fact, maybe that’s what living with something like cancer is all about—embracing a mostly fuzzy, often-changing, but beautiful plan for the future.