Advanced Breast Cancer Survivor

Surviving & thriving

Diagnosis ignites passion to inspire, empower and educate

Kimberly Jewett spent most of her 30s fighting for her life. After being diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer in 2008 at 31 and Stage IV at 35, she has emerged a stronger, independent single mom with a career dedicated to awareness and advocacy.

 

Over Memorial Day weekend in 2008, I told my mother I was having some achiness in my left breast. She was recovering from brain cancer and suggested I give myself a breast exam. I did, and I felt a lump under my left armpit. My OB-GYN wasn’t alarmed, but I persisted. A mammogram led to an ultrasound that uncovered an 8-mm nodule. I had cancer. At 31. It didn’t seem possible.

I immediately turned to the Internet. I found fantastic websites and joined discussion rooms, trying to learn everything I could about breast cancer. That was the beginning of so many things: fear of not being around to raise my two young children, strength in advocating for my own health, and the role faith plays in my journey.

My cancer was slow-growing and fed on estrogen, so I had a double mastectomy (my left breast to remove the tumor, my right breast as a prophylactic measure) with immediate reconstruction and six months of chemotherapy. I was completely exhausted, struggling to do ordinary things like tuck my daughter into bed.

After overhearing her pray to give her mommy the strength to fight cancer, I did the same. I was cancer-free for three years.

In July 2011, I underwent tests to investigate swelling under my left breast but the results were inconclusive. In January 2012, I awoke feeling like someone had kicked me hard in the rib. I was told a PET scan was the only test left and insurance might not pay for it. I insisted, knowing I might have to pay out of pocket. The area in question was clear, but a localized mass was detected deep within my left chest wall. I had surgery to remove the mass and a portion of my chest wall. I also had my implants removed so they couldn’t prevent me from noticing tumors in the future. Now I wear prosthetics.

I was pleased with my medical care, but I felt compelled to get a second opinion. Shockingly, tests performed by a new doctor revealed my cancer had progressed and was now Stage IV. Because it had spread deeper into my chest wall, my doctor called it the beginning of metastatic disease, in spite of no bone or organ development. I was treated with more surgery, six cycles of eribulin (Halaven) and radiation therapy.

To add to these struggles, my marriage was failing and my husband was our single source of income. When we separated, I was devastated in more ways than one. My family and friends became my support network.

At one of my appointments, my son asked my oncologist how he could help. We decided to make fleece-tied blankets to keep patients warm during chemotherapy. The first blanket we made comforted a woman and her family in her last hours of life and that showed me how one simple act can make such a difference. We continued and called it “Thoughtful Thursdays,” donating blankets to local cancer centers. It became a great distraction for my kids during my treatments, and it took off as a fundraising effort in our community.

Two years later, I started Kimberly Jewett Consulting, Inc. to provide patient advocacy strategy and oncology marketing consulting to corporations from a patient perspective. A key part of my mission is advocating for more funding for metastatic-focused research. I partner with pharmaceutical companies, visit Capitol Hill as a patient advocate and give motivational speeches. I’m also on the board of Bear Necessities, a non-profit pediatric cancer foundation in Chicago.

I’m now 39 years old and doing well, but I’m facing this lifelong disease and the fear never leaves. Every three months I go for scans and blood work, and the anxiety comes back for me and my kids. But I can see how this experience has shaped them in a positive way. They make choices to live life better through eating right and exercising. My daughter hopes to be an oncologist someday but, for now, she’d like to help other kids whose parents have cancer.

This journey has changed my life in more ways than I could have imagined. I am blessed that I’m able to see my kids grow and be a part of their lives.

My oncologist gave me three pieces of advice that I live by every day. In fact, I close every speech with them and they always give me chills:

  1. Have faith. I am a medical doctor, and I can do everything possible medically, but the man above has the final say.
  2. Hope. There are lots of drugs in research coming to market every day.
  3. Go home and celebrate with a glass of champagne, and live every day to the fullest.

 

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