I Am and I Will - World Cancer Day 2021
World Cancer Day every February 4th is the global uniting initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). Created in 2000, World Cancer Day has grown into a positive movement for everyone, everywhere to unite under one voice to face one of our greatest challenges in history.
In honor of World Cancer Day 2021, we want to share a story from Kim, a Project Manager at Stryker.
Everyone has dates that they’ll never forget. Their wedding day, births of their children, maybe the passing of someone important. The date I was diagnosed with breast cancer is one that will forever live in my archives. September 28, 2020...Six weeks to the day that my dad lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. 2020 did not take any prisoners.
A couple of months before my dad passed away, I discovered a lump during a self-exam. There was a lot going on at the time: Covid restrictions were starting to lift and with my dad declining, I was spending as much time as I could at his side on the other side of the state, I’m prone to cysts so I dismissed this lump as nothing to be concerned about, working full time, and single parenting with 50% custody… All of these were just excuses. Excuses to not address my own health issues head-on.
It wasn’t until after my dad passed, 5 days later to be exact, that I finally went to see a doctor. The doctor confirmed that I needed to go in for a mammogram and ultrasound to know for sure but did not express any concern at the time. Fast forward a month later and there I was being told that my mammogram and ultrasound results were “concerning”. I asked the doctor if they thought it was cancer and she just nodded “yes”. It was at that moment that I felt my world drop out from under me. Everything they said after that was a total blur.
They scheduled me for a biopsy the following week to confirm the cancer diagnosis and I can tell you that waiting for those results were the most anxiety-filled days I’ve ever had. Through the wonders of technology, I actually received my results before they even called me. In hindsight, I wish I had waited for the phone call. Finding out on my own gave me plenty of time to go down the Google rabbit hole and it was only a matter of time before I self-diagnosed myself with the worst possible prognosis possible. It was not a good idea.
Once I received a formal diagnosis, everything happened very quickly. First and most importantly, I met with the oncologist who informed me that my type of breast cancer was not only very common but also very treatable. Huge sigh of relief. She outlined a high-level treatment plan that would require chemo, surgery, and possibly radiation.
What felt like a million appointments later, I finally started chemo on November 3rd. My treatment plan (AC-T) is very common and takes 16 weeks to run its course. We did an ultrasound at the halfway point and they confirmed the treatment is working – roughly 70% shrinkage of the tumor!!! I just completed treatment number 7 of 8 and my final treatment is February 9th.
To say I’m excited for the end of this line is a severe understatement. Chemo has taken a toll on me, both physically and mentally.
I’m very much into working out and since the pandemic started, I have managed to build my own little gym at home complete with a squat rack and weights in the garage, a treadmill in my office, a bike on a trainer by the front door, and a rower conveniently placed smack in the middle of my living room.
I got my love for staying active from my dad. At the young age of 65 (before he was diagnosed), he was still mountain biking every day, many times with a chainsaw strapped to his back so he could clear trees while he was out on the trail. When he started treatment for pancreatic cancer in March 2019, I saw chemo take away the very things that brought him so much joy and when I received my diagnosis I vowed to not let that happen to me. Treatment for pancreatic cancer is significantly more aggressive than the treatment for breast cancer but knowing how important working out is to my physical and mental health was one of the first questions I asked my oncologist when we discussed treatment.
Thankfully, hydration, food, and exercise are critical factors to move the side effects out of your system faster so I was told to do whatever my body would allow. I definitely pushed my limits too hard sometimes and I was quickly reminded by those closest to me to give myself grace during this time. It took me a long time to learn what my body can and can’t do during treatment, but I’ve managed to stay surprisingly active despite the side effects. Every day is something different sometimes I have to call an audible in the middle of a workout based on how I’m feeling.
After my final treatment, I will have an MRI and meet with the breast surgeon and plastic surgeon again. The breast surgeon originally recommended a mastectomy on one side and lymph node removal. Due to the fact that I’m relatively young for breast cancer (compared to statistics that most women are 50 years old or older when they’re diagnosed) and a few other risk factors, I opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Following surgery (sometime in March), there will be some form of radiation but that is TBD still.
My support group and my Stryker family
While this adventure has been far from easy, I am incredibly grateful for the amazing friends and family that have supported me through the hot mess that has been 2020. My family lives on the east side of Michigan so the outpouring of local support has been absolutely overwhelming.
My two best friends (also Stryker employees) have been by my side through everything. They have been dividing and conquering every major appointment and every single treatment, often juggling and rearranging their own responsibilities and virtual/hybrid school situation to ensure that I’m never alone on this adventure.
Additionally, the outpouring of support from my Stryker family has been unbelievable. My boss arranged a meal train to ensure dinners are covered and I never have to worry about being in the kitchen making meals when I’m not feeling well. As a single parent, this has been a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. I’m incredibly grateful for the leaders in our organization that continue to put health, family, and personal well-being over everything else. It makes going through something like this so much less stressful.
Whoever you are - a cancer survivor, co-worker, a carer, a friend, a leader, healthcare worker, teacher, or student - you have the power to take action for a cancer-free world.https://www.worldcancerday.org/take-action