Kimalea C.

Breast Cancer - Stage 2

Kimalea Conrad

Now I know I have the strength to fight any battle. Cancer is not a good thing, but good has come out of my experience with this disease. If there is a fight before me, I can fight. I also want to rejoice in every day. Each sunrise and sunset is a blessing. Cancer cannot make me afraid without my permission, and I refuse to give it permission. So I feed my faith, not my fears.

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. 

After noticing a lump during a breast self-exam in 2010 I had a biopsy. I received a dreaded result—it was cancer. A lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy revealed tumors in three lymph nodes that were larger than the one in my breast. I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, and I would require another surgery to get a clean margin, as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

I was devastated. I was still grieving the loss of my husband, Gary, from a heart attack. I felt overwhelmed by fear. I thought cancer would change my life forever, and I was discouraged. I felt my body had somehow betrayed me. Before my diagnosis, I exercised and ate well; I was healthy. It seemed so unfair. I felt it was beyond my ability to cope.

Gradually, my thoughts shifted: I realized as unreal and unfair as it seemed, I did have cancer and I wanted to fight: I was ready to fight the fear and the invasion of cancer cells in my body.

Becoming a warrior

Determined to put up a strong fight, my son and I went to an Army surplus store for camouflage gear—something I could wear to remind myself that this was a war and I had a job to do. I stopped thinking of chemotherapy and radiation as my enemy and began thinking of them as my weapons.

I was looking for a place where I could receive comprehensive treatment from experts. Around this time, a friend suggested that I call Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA),* where her husband had received treatment. I spoke with an Oncology Information Specialist at CTCA® on a Saturday. He was kind and compassionate. On that following Monday, I flew from Colorado to Illinois so I could have a consultation with the doctors at the CTCA facility in Chicago.

During that first visit, I met with several doctors, clinicians, a naturopathic oncology provider, dietitian, mind-body provider and a pastor. When I was presented with a treatment plan, I felt that CTCA was the place where I would be the best equipped and most supported. I knew that I would be surrounded by fellow warriors that were willing to invest in a relationship with me. Their hope and encouragement increased my hopefulness. So I decided to pursue treatment at CTCA in Chicago.

My medical oncologist explained that the breast cancer I had was very aggressive. She was confident about the treatment plan she presented to me, which included a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She said it was imperative that I begin treatment immediately. She told me I would most likely lose my hair and have other side effects, which my care team would help me manage. I loved her no-nonsense approach to my care. I now had a battle plan.

The night before my first chemo treatment my son, who was a student at the University of Colorado at the time, shaved his head and sent me a picture. I was touched by his steadfast support. Before my second treatment, his roommate shaved his head. I struggled with chemotherapy and did lose my hair. I talked with my son, who encouraged and reminded me that I was strong and I could go the distance, that I could do this, and that many people cared and were cheering me on. I was not alone in this fight. His support gave me the strength and courage I needed to continue. I completed three different chemotherapy regimens, and then went on to complete radiation treatments.

My CTCA care team helped me to manage the side effects. I chose to view the loss of my hair as an affirmation that the chemotherapy was working. I decided to have fun with wigs. And when a hospital volunteer offered me a selection of pretty, hand-knitted hats that I could wear while sleeping to keep my bald head warm and comfortable, my heart was blessed by this thoughtfulness.

Turning cartwheels

Telluride, Colorado, where I reside, is very conducive to outdoor activities. I enjoy kayaking, skiing, fishing, hiking, running, dancing and horseback riding. I also love to turn cartwheels. During chemotherapy, I did not feel I could enjoy any of these activities. But as I completed chemotherapy and began to feel better, I decided to try doing a cartwheel. I discovered I did not yet have the strength, but I was hopeful that in time I would. After radiation, although I was feeling stronger, scar tissue restricted the range of motion of my shoulder so I still could not do a cartwheel.

Upon completion of treatment, I met with a surgeon who specializes in breast reconstructive surgery. Together we decided to try a free-flap procedure in which tissue from my abdomen would be moved to the area where my breast had been. I was told the procedure would require more than one surgery. As I understood it, radiation prevented me from having a breast implant, so this approach was the only option for reconstruction. Once again, CTCA was able to provide for my needs.

The first surgery lasted about 11 hours. When I awoke, my reconstructive surgeon was there, instructing the nurses and reassuring me that all was well and that he was pleased with the results. At a post-operative appointment, I asked him if I could try a cartwheel. With his encouragement, I gave it a try. Right in the hallway of CTCA, I did a cartwheel. In fact, I turned three more cartwheels that day, to the delight of the CTCA staff who had indeed become friends during my journey of healing and restoration.

Surrounded by care

As a patient going through cancer treatment, it has meant so much to be surrounded by so many caring people. The staff at CTCA seemed to always know exactly what I needed. They knew what would make a difference in my well-being, and what would give me peace, confidence and hope. Each day of my treatment, as I arrived in my camo gear, I felt the support and encouragement of doctors, nurses, clinicians, therapists, pastors and other staff members: a long list of individuals who were willing to invest in me. They were an important part of my fight.

Since September 2011, I have had no evidence of cancer. My medical oncologist was the first to report when I reached this status, and there was such joy in her voice when she told me. I was ecstatic! I feel healthy and strong. My hair has grown back thick and silver. I love this new look—it is a victory flag, because I am a survivor.

Now I know I have the strength to fight any battle. Cancer is not a good thing, but good has come out of my experience with this disease. If there is a fight before me, I can fight. I also want to rejoice in every day. Each sunrise and sunset is a blessing. Cancer cannot make me afraid without my permission, and I refuse to give it permission. So I feed my faith, not my fears.

The caregivers at CTCA were an integral part of bringing me through a difficult and frightening time into an experience that I could embrace and by which I could be strengthened. CTCA continues to care for me and guide me in my pursuit of optimal health and wellness. When I walk into CTCA I feel surrounded by people who sincerely care about me.

* Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, working together to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care. Because this patient testimonial was written and published before CTCA® and City of Hope joined forces, mentions of legacy CTCA locations have not been updated in the interest of maintaining the patient’s original voice and story details.