UPDATED November 1, 2011, a message from KELLY
My breast cancer story started in September 2007 when I was 45 years old. I am a teacher, and I was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) the first week of school. ILC is less likely to show up on a mammogram than other types of breast cancer, and I first noticed my tumor when I had pain in my left shoulder. My oncologist and surgeon agreed that the tumor (the size of a flattened softball) was too large to remove, so I completed six months of chemotherapy before having surgery. By April 2008, my tumor was dramatically smaller. I chose to have a lumpectomy, and axillary lymph nodes were also removed. After completely healing from surgery, I went through radiation.
Although reconstruction of my breast was covered under insurance in Minnesota, I was hesitant to do anything more to my body that might invite infection or weaken my immune system. I waited two years before working with a plastic surgeon to restore my breast to a more normal size and shape. Prior to reconstruction, I had a daily reminder of cancer every time I looked in the mirror, and my negative thoughts were sabotaging my health. Now I go weeks without thinking about cancer, and thanks to reconstruction I feel much more healthy and vigorous.
Being bald for awhile and then being lopsided are minor inconveniences. What takes a toll on me is the recurring thought that the cancer will return. I am so grateful to have a “sister,” Angela, who understands this journey. She is truly the most positive, inspirational woman I know, and I feel strengthened every time I am with her. I also appreciate that so many readers of “The Girls from Ames” have contacted me to share their stories of survival.
As of September 2011, three years after completing my treatment, there is no evidence of cancer. Every hour, every day, every week that passes puts me closer to saying with absolute assurance that I am a survivor. Years from now I hope to say that Angela and I are both survivors, and that our daughters remain cancer free.
UPDATE FROM August 2010
Readers of “The Girls from Ames” have been asking for updates on the Ames girls’ lives since the book was completed in November 2008. Many have also asked for health updates on Kelly and Angela.
Kelly has completed her treatments for breast cancer, looks great and feels well. She is back at her job teaching journalism and writing at Faribault High School in Faribault, Minn.
Angela has completed all of her treatments for inflammatory breast cancer. After 16 chemotherapy infusions early in the year, she had surgery in late April followed by 32 radiation treatments. A CT scan in August showed no evidence of disease. As a preventative measure for this aggressive form of cancer, Angela’s doctors prescribed six rounds of chemo pills that she was able to take from home. Her final dose ended on Dec 22, 2009, and she’s on a path to rebuild her energy, strength and health.
Both Angela and Kelly have been very moved by the show of concern from readers of the book.
Here’s a note from Kelly:
“I finished treatment for breast cancer at the end of July 2008, and at this time there is no evidence of disease. Even though Angela and I have different types of breast cancer, we both initially went through similar treatments which involved chemotherapy for a few months, which shrunk tumors that had spread to our lymph nodes; followed by surgery; and then radiation.
“Although our treatments were similar, the drugs, surgery and radiation affected us very differently. Breast cancer is a unique experience for each woman, but I have truly benefitted from having a “sister” in this journey who can relate to my experience. Angela and I definitely feel a deeper bond to each other now as a result of sharing breast cancer.
“When some of the ‘girls from Ames’ were in Omaha in December 2009 for a fund-raiser, we gathered in a hotel room late one night and Angela and I showed the women how our surgeries have impacted our bodies. Although it should have been a serious, poignant moment, we found many things to laugh about.
“My left breast was affected by cancer, and with Angela it was her right breast. When I walk arm-in-arm with her I feel as though we form a beautiful, strong whole woman.”
And here’s a note from Angela:
“I’m so touched by everyone’s well wishes for me and Kelly. Kelly has been a big inspiration to me as I completed my treatments. While I experienced everything my radiologist warned me about “” itchy, red skin, peeling, blistering, fatigue “” I am now feeling much better. I’m happy to be finished with this cancer chapter of my life which began on Oct. 20, 2008. It’s wonderful to be a survivor and I credit my friends and family for helping make that happen. This book and all of its fans kept me positive and grateful throughout my nine months of treatment. I enjoy hearing and reading your stories about friends and cancer survival. Thank you for your caring and support.”