Breast Cancer Survivor

Don't Forget to Do What You Want to Do

Kristine Simkins has survived breast cancer twice. Her initial cancer, which was found in 2003, was ductal carcinoma in situ. Surgery and radiation therapy successfully treated it. However, cancer returned in 2013. After her second diagnosis, she entered a clinical trial designed to investigate a new chemotherapy drug. She finished the trial, followed it with surgery and is now cancer-free. Today, the retired teacher lives with her mother and enjoys life by traveling, crocheting and freely doing whatever she wants to do.

 

A routine mammogram detected cancer in my left breast. I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, which means the cancer could be seen with a microscope, but it had not spread into surrounding tissue. I had a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and then had radiation therapy, after which I was declared cancer-free.

Fast forward 10 years when, during another routine mammogram, a suspicious spot was found in my left breast. This time, the cancer was considered malignant. Initially, I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma, but after doing a needle biopsy, the doctors said this cancer was unrelated to the one they had found the first time. This was an entirely new cancer. It was difficult to stage my second cancer but, ultimately, it was diagnosed as Stage II.

Having a second cancer diagnosis was so unexpected, and it scared me. Although the doctor quickly scheduled surgery to remove the tumor, my friends urged me to get a second opinion. So, three days before my scheduled surgery, I met with a different doctor who recommended I enter a research study for an investigational chemotherapy drug for my type of breast cancer. I believe in research and the benefits it can bring to both the patient and others. I decided to give the clinical trial a try, and I cancelled the surgery.

The clinical trial, which lasted six months, included a combination of chemotherapy drugs before surgery. After the trial, I had surgery, and I specifically requested to have both breasts removed with no reconstruction. My doctors also removed a few lymph nodes, and those came back clean. As a result, I decided not to have radiation therapy, which was originally recommended.

Fortunately, I only had minimal side effects from the chemotherapy. I did lose my hair, eyebrows and nose hair, and I felt dead tired. But, I never threw up or had other side effects. I was also lucky and surprised that the pain from my fibromyalgia went away while I was on chemotherapy.

The worst side effect I had while receiving my chemotherapy treatments was being so tired. There were some days I couldn’t get out of bed except to let my dog outside. I’d often lie in bed just listening to baseball and football games because I was too tired to open my eyes and watch the games. Because of lack of energy after chemotherapy treatments, I didn’t go out much. When I did have energy, I spent my time researching on the internet and going to online support groups. One day while surfing the internet, I discovered patterns to make crocheted hats. I began crocheting multi-colored hats to wear instead of wigs. I bought a wig so that when my grandchildren saw me for the first time without hair, it wouldn’t scare them, but I only wore it once. I preferred wearing the bright, colorful hats I made. They cheered me up and made other people who were being treated for cancer smile as well.

After I finished the chemotherapy treatments, my energy level slowly returned. I set the goal to clean up my basement because after my mother moved in, we had multiple items to sort through. I told myself that I only had to decide on two items a day to either throw away or donate. Over time, I made progress and became real familiar with a local second-hand store.

I recommend people make a bucket list. One of the items on my list was to make a snow angel the next time it snowed. After finishing chemotherapy and surgery, one snowy winter, I just went out and made a snow angel. It was funny because my neighbor came running out to check on me, thinking I’d fallen and couldn’t get up. Although that is an example of an inexpensive bucket list item, there are some expensive items on my list that I probably won’t ever get to do, but it is fun to imagine I will. Make sure you do what you want to do when you want to do it. Don’t let cancer stop you.

I really don’t fear cancer returning. You have to live your life and keep your sense of humor. You have to find the funny stuff — and there’s a lot of funny stuff with cancer. For example, I used to say that the great part about chemotherapy was that I didn’t have to shave anymore. You’ve got to find the humor where you can. Try to stay positive, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

 

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