Breast Cancer Survivor

Survivor strives To make others look special

Kathy Dibben is a contemporary Renaissance woman. She lives on a 14-acre hobby farm in Smithville, Mo. (a suburb of Kansas City), and previously had a career in banking and finance. She and Bud (Bradley) are married with five children and 10 grandchildren between them.

Along the way, her life took an unforeseen turn when first her mother, then her cousin and finally she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Kathy fought back and her cancer went into remission. Then in 2002, she had an unexpected second cancer. Today, she’s had no sign of cancer for eight years and is a cancer survivor.

In 2007, at the age of 54, she opened a specialty shop called Absolute Dignity. The shop features a wide variety of products for breast cancer patients. (http://www.myspace.com/absolutedignity)

 

I am determined that everyone who comes in my store should feel special while they are here. As a survivor, I feel a responsibility to help other women through this journey. They all have a story.

My story began in 1990 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time. I felt a lump in one breast about a month before I did anything about it. Instead, I went on a work trip, and when I returned, I learned that my cousin Ann was scheduled for breast surgery. It turned out to be cancer.

While our family was in Ann’s hospital room, her doctor came in and asked the women in the room if they had recently had a mammogram. When I told him that I had not scheduled one yet but that I did have a lump (and that my mother had died from breast cancer seven years earlier), he asked me who my doctor was. Right then he picked up the phone and called my doctor who scheduled an appointment for me that very day.

During the next few days, I had multiple mammograms and had to wait and wait for results. I kept thinking, “I am only 37. Breast cancer is not supposed to affect you until after 40.” When my surgeon finally told me that it was breast cancer and that I needed to have surgery immediately, I was actually relieved to get the diagnosis.

That may sound crazy to some, but the waiting and not knowing was nearly unbearable. Now that I knew, I could do something about it. I had an initial lumpectomy and then a second surgery in which the doctors removed 23 lymph nodes. I don’t remember if they staged my cancer in 1990, but the first four nodes were found to be positive for cancer.

Only a week passed from the time I was sitting in Ann’s hospital room to when she was sitting in mine. She and I went through all our treatments two weeks apart. We both had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. We didn’t get second opinions. We didn’t question our doctors — even when one of them told me I had a 25 percent chance of surviving five years. We did what they recommended. Sadly, Ann passed away two years after her diagnosis -— and I’m fortunate to still be here 20 years later.

After all my treatments, thankfully, I was cancer free. I continued to go for my yearly mammograms. My doctors routinely took biopsies of anything suspicious, and the pathology reports always showed no cancer. So after 12 years, I was very surprised to find that I had cancer again — this time in my other breast. I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy and not have any more radiation or chemotherapy or breast reconstruction surgery.

In 2008, I had the honor of being asked by General Mills to be a Pink Together Ambassador as part of the company’s Pink Together campaign. I was one of five women whose photographs appeared on millions of cereal boxes and snacks to raise awareness of breast cancer. The goal is to continue to give other women hope.

In 2003, when I had to find a mastectomy swimsuit for a trip to my son’s wedding in Cancun, I began to dream of opening a specialty store for breast cancer patients. I could find only one store in all of Kansas City that had any of these specialty suits. I thought to myself that someday I was going to have a store where women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer could come and buy swimsuits, wigs, hats and post-surgery products that made them feel beautiful.

When I had the chance to open my store, it was the fulfillment of my dream and a sort of ministry. Throughout this journey, my faith and my church, along with Bud and my family, have sustained me. In turn, I remind other survivors that we are all pulling for them — they are not alone. When people come into my store, no one leaves without a hug.

 

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