Mom of two sons, caregiver, MBC awareness advocate
ABOUT KIM, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- My dad has a saying: “There’s Kim, better known as ‘I can do it.’”
- I embrace my family’s help emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
- I was a busy mom who worked. It was hard to make time for myself. I didn’t let anyone else help me, either.
- As women, I feel like we’re always rushing off to take care of someone else. It took me a long time to learn to let that go, but you have to.
My First Diagnosis
Since I was diagnosed, I feel like I live my life in segments of summer vacations. I get some kind of scan every three months or so, and in the time in between, I try not to think about metastatic breast cancer; it’s just too overwhelming. It’s not just about the cancer; it’s about my family and our future. Sometimes it’s the little things that catch me off guard the most, and when I get upset, I’ll go off alone and give myself a little pity party. But then I say to myself, “Okay, I can do this.”
My dad has a saying: “There’s Kim, better known as ‘I can do it.’” Growing up, my father always made me feel like I could do anything. He would say, “Don’t tell me you can’t, just do it; get on that bike and ride.”
I thought I could do everything myself, even when I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2005, while I was at a business conference in New Orleans. I’d had a biopsy done before I’d left, and I was sitting outside in the courtyard where I was staying, when the doctor called to say the biopsy had come back positive. I had breast cancer.
Treatment started, and I really struggled. When I looked in the mirror all I saw was someone who gained weight from the steroids I was taking, had no hair from the chemo, and now had a pair of uneven boobs from the lumpectomy.
I wish I had cared more about myself as a whole rather than just my appearance. I was a busy mom who worked. To balance my life and the guilt of being a working mother, I was also a Boy Scout leader, CCD teacher, and Little League coach. It was hard to make time for myself in between raising my two young boys, Justin, then 13, and Jacob, 11. I didn’t let anyone else help me, either. Not even my best friend, who is my biggest cheerleader and who would do anything for me. I really didn’t think I needed help either—because after four months of chemo, and 40 rounds of radiation, the doctors said I’d be just fine.
It took me years before I could start living without always thinking about my cancer—years before I could drive past the oncologist’s office without having that sick-to-my-stomach “I just had chemo” feeling. But finally, I was able to let the nauseating fears go.
My Diagnosis Of MBC
Many years after my first diagnosis, I was in New Orleans again for that same conference. I’d been experiencing back pain, and I’d gone to the doctor for an MRI before I’d left. I was expecting the phone call that day about the back pain. I thought the pain was caused by working out too much. I found myself back at the same hotel as before. I sat there in the same courtyard where I had breakfast years earlier and ordered a glass of champagne ready to celebrate good news. As they were delivering the champagne, the doctor called and said, “You need a bone biopsy, Kim. It definitely looks like it’s cancer.” I sat there alone in disbelief. I’m in New Orleans: same conference, same hotel, and wondered, Why did I come here?
When I got back to my room, all of my anxieties came out. My husband was there, and after I told him, he held me as I cried. Screaming into the pillow, I didn’t want to do this again—I didn’t think I could do it again. Obviously, New Orleans is NOT the city for me, but I did have choices to make. I decided to hit everything head on. Taking charge, like I normally do, I scheduled my biopsy so I could have it done immediately upon my return.
The biopsy results confirmed our suspicions: metastatic breast cancer. As I sat there in fear with my loving husband, mother, and father, it occurred to me that my parents had taught me something else: It’s not about who or what you are; it’s about what you’re becoming. This diagnosis—and how I approached it—was going to be completely different.
I started radiation immediately for the bone metastases. However, the rest of my treatment plan could not be determined as the two initial pathology reports came back inconclusive. I took the lead again and said I want it sent for further testing.
Treating With IBRANCE
After the tests came back, it was determined I had HR+/HER2- mBC. My doctor’s recommended plan involved the combination of IBRANCE taken along with letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor. I was told this combination was a first-line treatment for HR+/HER2- mBC in postmenopausal women.
I read all about the risks and benefits, and began taking IBRANCE in combination with letrozole. We were happy with my results. I experienced side effects, including changes in my white blood cell counts, diarrhea, hair loss, anemia, changes in my nail beds, and weight gain. That’s just me—other patients might experience other common side effects including infections or fatigue. I am no longer taking IBRANCE with letrozole and am now receiving a different treatment.
I have been blessed with so many things in my life, but I am most blessed and most proud of my family. Thinking back on my first diagnosis, I didn’t realize how much I alienated myself. Now I embrace my family’s help emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
It took a long time for my husband, father, and two sons to fully understand my diagnosis. My husband and I laugh so much more now, and I know my boys are there for me too, though all I want is for them to be happy and healthy. I want them to live without the guilt of not always being physically there. They are young adults now trying to make their way in the world.
This time around, it’s not just about me or who I am; it’s about what I’m becoming. It’s about living for today and it’s about giving back. I have been a Susan G. Komen 3-Day walker for over 11 years now. I have personally raised over $150K. To find a cure, we must first have awareness. We must share our stories with one another. We have to know that this is not a cookie-cutter disease and there are breakthroughs happening all the time.
I thought my role in life was well defined. Kim “I can do it.” Is this diagnosis going to define me now? I’ve never known how to answer that question, “Are you a survivor?” I was really never fond of that phrase “a survivor” to begin with. We all have things we need to survive from, and we are all so much more than that. I think of my family, who I’m even closer to now, and my friends. There are still things to work on and things left to do, but I’m taking care of myself and doing the right things by me, my family, and my children, just like my mom and dad have always done.
You can’t ignore your body’s discomfort. I feel as women, I feel like we’re always rushing off to take care of someone else, always concerned about the perfect home, husband, children, and life in general. It took me a long time to learn to let that go, but you have to. Make time to take care of yourself. All of us are stronger than this disease. Even if you’re scared, fight it today, fight it tomorrow, and get on that bike and ride!