Mom, multitasker, heart of the family
ABOUT KERRI, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- Family is where everything starts and ends with me. I’m a wife with four kids.
- I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in February 2013. My treatments and reconstruction took all of 2013, and the pathology report came back with no signs of cancer.
- A couple years later, I was sent for an MRI. The breast cancer was back and it was metastatic. It took about a week after my diagnosis for everything to truly sink in.
- I want to be here as long as I can, and make the most of it. I think this cancer diagnosis has helped me be more giving and caring.
Family Comes First
I grew up in the Midwest with awesome parents that were always there for me. We lived within 30 minutes of both sets of my grandparents—family is where everything starts and ends with me. I’m a wife with four kids, so I’m not used to single-tasking. Life has been one of soccer games, baseball games, softball games, Scouts, academic teams, carpools, and laughter.
Everything I did, I did for my kids. So my first thought when I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in February 2013 was, How do I tell my family? When you spend your life being the planner and the one that holds things together, it’s difficult to feel as powerless as I did.
Facing Diagnosis And Treatment
Telling my kids the diagnosis was a big conversation. I got everyone together, and I almost couldn’t talk. I couldn’t put the words, “I have cancer,” together. But my family was tremendous, and after the initial shock of the diagnosis, I went into attack mode. I was scared, but I knew that my family and friends were being strong for me. I felt I needed to be strong for them.
If I had doubts about my treatment, or my future, I kept them to myself. I was the one that everyone looked to. If they saw I was worried, they would be worried too. So I kept it positive. After chemo, I had a mastectomy. Everyone was so concerned that I wouldn’t feel like a woman without breasts, but I didn’t feel that way at all. I was willing to do anything that was needed to survive. My treatments and reconstruction took all of 2013, and in July 2014, the pathology report came back with no signs of cancer. Finally, I was ready for a quiet and disease-free 2015.
Life In Turmoil
2015 didn’t end up being the year I thought it was going to be. I lost both my mother-in-law and my father within two months of each other. I didn’t think that the year could get any worse. I was wrong. I’d been having some back pain since earlier in the year, but I didn’t think anything about the pain in my back or in my left shoulder until mid-September. While I was at work, I turned to grab something and felt a “pop” in my back. I thought that maybe I had pulled a muscle, but the next morning I couldn’t walk. I didn’t have any strength to stand. I’m crawling toward the shower and my husband saw me and asked, “What are you doing?” I told him, “I can crawl, I’ll be fine!”
Not surprisingly, I wasn’t fine! After three weeks and various doctors’ appointments, I wasn’t getting any better. The pain was constant. I just kept going until finally, I was sent for an MRI. Within an hour, I had a call from my doctor. I had a crushed vertebra and had been walking on a broken back for three weeks. The vertebra had been damaged by a tumor that had spread outside of the bone in my spine. She said it was because the breast cancer was back and it was metastatic.
Comprehending A New Diagnosis
Honestly, I didn’t understand what I was hearing. I had beat cancer—so how could it come back? What did metastatic breast cancer mean? At that point, I didn’t even care. All I wanted was for my back pain to stop.
Before anything could be done with the cancer, I had to have spine surgery. This was terrifying—what if something went wrong? What if the cancer had spread beyond my spine? I started doing research and even asked for a PET scan. I was relieved and happy that it showed my organs were clean. Who feels lucky about having “just” a broken, cancer-filled back?
But you know what I realized? If my vertebra hadn’t fractured, I may not have known about my mBC because I didn’t have symptoms. I wanted to power through my mBC like I had with the Stage III diagnosis, and be done. I soon realized that this wasn’t how mBC works.
Determining What’s Next
Once I had substantial healing from my surgery, I started radiation on my spine and my shoulder and then I met with my oncologist to figure out next steps. Since I had already taken hormonal therapy, my doctor and I discussed a treatment plan including IBRANCE along with fulvestrant, which is used to treat HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer. We talked about the benefits and serious side effects, and I agreed to the plan.
I took my IBRANCE in the evenings, with dinner. I talked monthly with my doctor at my appointments about how I was doing, had my blood and tumor antigens checked, and received my fulvestrant shots. I did have side effects, including occasional nausea, and I tired easily. The other thing that concerned me was the side effect of alopecia. I had already lost all my hair through chemo; I didn’t want to do that again. A few strands did come out; I figured that I could live with that, but this was just my experience and yours may be different. Other patients might experience serious side effects, including low white blood cell counts, low red blood cell counts, or low platelet counts. In September 2016, I stopped taking IBRANCE and fulvestrant.
Staying Focused On The Positives
It took about a week after my diagnosis for everything to truly sink in, and longer for my family. My mother was very worried once I sat down and told her the cancer had come back. After everything she’d been through, she didn’t need more loss. My husband was worried too. You look up mBC online, and the statistics just don’t sound good. One day he asked, “Do you want to go to Alaska?” I told him, “I’m not talking about ‘bucket lists.’ I’m not planning on dying, I’m just living.”
Yes, I’m scared. I’m scared of missing out on the moments a mom should see. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the seriousness of the disease. That’s why you need to look at the positives. If you let fear get to you, what’s the point of fighting? I want to be here as long as I can, and make the most of it.
I think this cancer diagnosis has helped me be more giving and caring, and has shown me that I want people to know I love them. I do things with my kids, not just for them. It’s not about the clean floors or the fancy meal. It’s not about the stuff you have or how much you can do—it’s the people that matter. It’s about making memories.
To paraphrase my favorite country song, I want to “speak sweeter, love deeper, and forgive easier.” Life is too short, but it doesn’t have to stop. We’re not guaranteed a tomorrow, so make today the best it can be.