Katie, Mary and Liz's Story "Sister Survivors"

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Katie's Words

My name is Katie. Outside of my family and my wonderful friends, my passion in life is coaching youth basketball and volleyball. I am married with a 16 year-old son. I am the oldest of 7 children and the aunt to 16 nieces and nephews. And I am a survivor.

I was diagnosed with Her2 + Stage 2 cancer. I was confident I had cancer before my mammogram so I was not shocked by the diagnosis, just numb. My immediate concern was for my son and how the news and life change would affect him and possibly rob him of his youth and change his life.

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Since I had a strong feeling my lump was cancer, my mother and one of my four sisters went with me to my mammogram which was the same day I was told I had cancer. I texted them from the radiologist patient room, “It’s cancer”. My mom and sister came back into the room immediately.

On the way home from the hospital, my sister called the rest of my five siblings, so by the time we got to my parents house they were all there waiting. My then-12-year-old son came home from school and I sat him down privately and told him I had breast cancer. He looked at me with fear and asked me, “Are you going to die Mom? I told him I was not going to die. He said, “Are you sure?”.  I told him not to worry, but that I would be bald at some point. As long as he knew I would not die, he was okay.

I truly believe the key to my success and a source of strength came from my oncologist Dr. Qamar Khan and his treatment plan, the support of my friends and family, my desire to live to raise my son and the belief that I had everything I needed to beat this disease. Dr. Khan told me truthfully that if I did what he said he was quite sure he could bring my body to a state of being cancer free. That was all I needed to know. I had 18 rounds of chemo, 4 surgeries, multiple scans, tests etc. Through all of it I trusted his words and thought about my son and family. Nothing seemed to really bring me down because I knew I would live and that this was all short term. I went all over Kansas City and on a trip to Las Vegas with my girlfriends, bald with nothing on my head! In fact, I was bald all summer long as the wigs and scarves were just too hot. My son, after seeing me bald, didn’t care and I still  watched every one of his outdoor baseball games bald. The chemo and shots made me weak but I was able to push through because I knew I would win and that I would get through. My girlfriends were all available for anything and everything, from transporting my son to and from school and practice, to bringing me whatever food I felt I could stomach during the bad chemo days. My support network made my journey so much more tolerable.

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While my chemotherapy ended April 14, 2014, I had undergone a double mastectomy on July 31, 2013 where my surgeon and oncologist informed me I had no signs of cancer left in my breast or lymph nodes. That was when I truly felt cancer free.

For women preparing to go through or experiencing what I did, I would advise them to research and seek out a great oncologist, trust that doctor, and know that through all of the hardship there is a pot of gold at the end… Your LIFE!! Stay positive and never let yourself give up or give in to the negative thoughts that try and sneak in. Stay the course and know that you’re only going to come out a stronger person.

I was and remain inspired by a quote from Pastor Charles Swindoll. “Life is 10 percent of what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it”.

 

 

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Liz's Words

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At the Age of 32 I elected to have a preventative double mastectomy. As a mother of three small children and the sister of two breast cancer survivors, my decision was easy. Choosing to remove my breasts was a way for me to change my story, change my outcome, and ultimately my life. After seeing my sisters suffer through countless treatments and sadly seeing our cousin pass away, I knew I needed to actively take control of my health.

With the encouragement and support of my husband and family, I began meeting with genetic counselors, my trusted gynecologist, and eventually surgeons. Although our family does not carry the BRCA gene, our family history put us in a very high percentage of risk. In the end, it was up to me to make this choice.


My mother is a living testament to the success of a preventative double mastectomy, so I confidently chose to follow in her footsteps and preserve my health to the best degree possible. Hopefully my decision to get preventative care will keep me from having to go down the same road as my sisters Mary & Katie. My double mastectomy was the hardest thing I have ever done, emotionally and physically. However, knowing that I have done my very best to be here for my children as long as possible makes me feel blessed beyond measure.

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Mary's Words

My name is Mary. I am a wife and mother to 2 kids. I grew up in a large family and am 1 of 7 children. I am the aunt to 22 nieces and nephews. I have spent my life playing, coaching and spectating sports with my family. This year I turned 40 and a week later my life was changed when I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

In July of 2016 I found a lump in my breast and on the 25th I was scheduled for a mammogram with an ultra sound. I was very familiar with the process because my sister Katie had breast cancer 3 years prior. As the technician was doing the ultrasound she confirmed my lump was not a cyst so I knew immediately I had a tumor in my breast...then they found another tumor in my lymph node. The biopsies were taken and the next few days waiting for results were awful. I knew I had breast cancer but was still hoping for benign diagnosis. The thoughts that go through your mind during that time are overwhelming. Once I met with my oncologist Dr. Kahn, (who was also my sisters’), he walked me through the process and I was put at ease.

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I was diagnosed with HER 2+ and it was estrogen driven. I was familiar with this cancer because I was the 5th granddaughter to be diagnosed with it on my mother’s side of the family and it was the same diagnosis as my sister Katie, in the same quad of the breast, and it had spread to one lymph node just like it had with her. I was relieved to be diagnosed with this cancer because I knew my family responded well to the treatments. The next part of my journey was to tell my daughters that I have cancer.

We explained to my youngest daughter Lucy that I would be sick sometimes and I would lose my hair. The thought of no hair on my head made her laugh hysterically and then she continued to pray for my “Boob” every night at bedtime. My older daughter Frances on the other hand, had some good questions for me. She had just seen my sister go through this and my cousin pass away from it. After I told her I was going to be sick and lose my hair she asked me three questions, “Do you have cancer?” “Are you going to die?” and “Does this mean I will have cancer when I grow up?”. I told her that I do have cancer, that my doctor said as long as I do what he says I will get better, and that we will live healthy lives to help prevent you from getting cancer. I told her she could grow up to be a scientist or doctor and discover a cure for cancer. Her next question was, “How many degrees do I need to become a scientist?”.

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I was very lucky to have a wonderful support system during chemotherapy. My husband did not miss one single appointment and was very positive throughout this process. My family helped with our kids and gave them lots of love when I was too sick to hold them. For the first time in my adult life I was accepting help from others.

I have since gotten more involved with some of the very communities and charities that supported me while I was sick. I think maybe I am destined to be an advocate for women with dense breast tissue, and encourage them to demand Ultrasounds or MRI’s on their breasts since mammograms can have difficulty identifying tumors with dense breast tissue. I know that I will encourage women to get up everyday and try to stay active during chemo like my sister did for me.

 

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