Kimalea’s Story

Stage II breast cancer

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.

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My journey with breast cancer has been both spiritual and physical. It began in late June 2010 when I found a small lump in my breast. At first, I wanted to dismiss it to the fact that I have fibrocystic tissues. The lump was very tiny, but it felt slightly different than anything I had felt before. When I returned to my home in Telluride, Colorado that Fourth of July weekend after a trip out of town, I called and made an appointment with my doctor. The next week, I underwent a biopsy. Days later, the results came in: The tumor was cancerous.

I went to a local hospital to have a lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy. The biopsy determined the cancer was in three of the four sentinel lymph nodes. The original tumor was .8 centimeters and the nodes that had become cancerous were larger than the actual tumor.

The surgeon referred me to a cancer center in Colorado for additional treatment. My son David and I went for an appointment, but I wasn’t sure it was right for me. I needed a hospital that would provide comprehensive cancer treatment and be attuned to all of my needs. I was scared and alone, and without a caregiver. A little more than two years before I was diagnosed, I lost Gary, my husband of 36 years, to a heart attack. David was in college and I wanted him to stay focused on his studies. He had gone through so much after losing his father, I asked him to make a pact with me that he’d stay in school.

Each of our hospitals has a dedicated pastoral care team that is united in the purpose of encouraging you in your faith and helping you find strength and hope in God. From the moment you walk into one of our state of the art medical facilities, a pastor is available to participate in your care along with your oncologists, surgeons, nurses, and integrative care clinicians.

I turned to friends for advice and prayer. A couple that I had reached out to reminded me they had gone to Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Tulsa, Oklahoma for cancer treatment. They encouraged me to call CTCA for information and see if I could get a second opinion at one of their hospitals. Being longtime friends and people who shared my faith, I trusted their opinion. So I decided to call CTCA.

I called on a Saturday and a gentleman named Doug answered the phone. I told him about my breast cancer diagnosis and surgery. He talked to me about CTCA hospitals and their overall approach treating breast cancer. He also collected my medical insurance information so that he could check to see if my insurance provider would allow me to treat at CTCA. He later called back to let me know my insurance approved for me to go to CTCA.

I took a bit of time to reflect on what I was facing. I thought about what I needed to do in order to be strong and focused. I examined my thought life to make sure I was keeping my thoughts in a place that’s healthy and strong, and full of hope.

I realized that I trust God with my life. He knows when I’m going to take my last breath, I don’t. I can’t do anything about that last breath, but I can do a lot about the quality of my life. I have a responsibility for taking care of myself and making the best choices for my body.

That August, after praying to God and asking, "Where should I seek treatment?," I decided to visit the CTCA hospital outside of Chicago for a consultation. I knew what my battle plan was spiritually, but I did not know what the battle plan was physically. I was still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I had cancer. I was distracted by cancer and the unknown, but CTCA helped me bring things into focus.

It was amazing the level upon level of trust that was built, from the kind, CTCA driver who met me at the airport and drove me to the hospital’s nearby lodging, to the compassion my doctors showed me. It was as if there was someone at each step of the way to guide me through the evaluation process at CTCA. I felt like I was constantly provided for and gently taken from one place to the next. I may have been without a caregiver, but I had all of the care I needed.

Finding a care team that renewed my strength

My care team included oncologists and surgeons, as well as a dietitian, naturopathic provider, mind-body therapist, care manager, nurse navigator and pastoral care providers. I felt like they had an aerial view of me and had a plan that included things I didn’t even think to address. It was a feeling of partnership, as though they were willing to invest in a relationship with me and go on this journey with me. They were very hopeful, and that strengthened my hope.

Dr. Neelam, my medical oncologist, told me my breast cancer was a very aggressive, rogue cancer. She advised that I have a mastectomy immediately and undergo additional treatment. Within a matter of days, Dr. Sanchez performed my mastectomy at the hospital. I appreciated that he prayed for me before my surgery.

I returned home to rest and heal for about a week, then came back to CTCA to begin chemotherapy treatment. Months later I also received radiation therapy. I remember Dr. Neelam’s joy when I completed my treatment in September 2011. She told me there was no evidence of disease. I was ecstatic…we had won the war!

About a year after I completed cancer treatment, I had my first reconstructive microsurgery. Because the radiation I needed to receive deeply scarred my breast tissue, it ruled out the possibility of a breast implant. However, Dr. Pelletier, a reconstructive microsurgeon, was able to recreate a natural looking breast using tissue from my abdomen. The scar tissue no longer restricts my range of motion in my shoulder. Today I can continue to do one of my favorite things: turning cartwheels.

Continual spiritual support

The spiritual support I received at CTCA was completely integrated with my treatment. It began on my first day at CTCA, when I met Pastor Andrew Barkley. We talked and prayed, and he listened to my concerns and requests.

I also remember before my first chemotherapy infusion, Pastor Tammy James prayed for the chemo to heal my body. And before my microsurgery, Tammy and Dr. Pelletier’s nurse Kelly held my hands and prayed for me as I fell asleep from the anesthesia.

Whenever possible, I attended Wednesday church services at the hospital. I even met two other patients at the services who have become dear friends. I also attended a healing service while I was going through radiation treatment. There I saw the healing blankets people had made for patients that the pastoral care team had prayed over. I was given a blanket and it meant so much to me. I have since made a couple of blankets for the pastors to distribute to patients.

The pastoral care team contributed greatly to my feeling of health and wholeness, and my peace. They provided me with spiritual counsel and always made time to talk and pray with me. I truly felt comfortable worshiping with them. They embraced my faith and beliefs. The team meets everyone at their point of need, no matter where people are in their faith journey.

Living strongly, positively & with hope

Every day I remind myself, cancer cannot make me afraid without my permission. And, I will not give it permission.

I begin each day with praise. When I start to list all of the people and blessings I’m grateful for, I realize how rich my life is and how very blessed I am. I know God will never leave me or forsake me, and no matter how difficult things are, He is a very present help. He’s my refuge. And I know that He is in my present, but He’s also waiting for me in my future. He goes before me to prepare my way as I purpose to follow him. I do not fret, as God will provide. My opportunity is to feed my faith and not feed my fears.

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