Did you know that there are over 250,000 women living in the U.S. who were diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40. Cancer knows no age; breast cancer does not discriminate based on age, race, or even sex. Philly Happening will be featuring inspirational stories of hope and courage over the next few months, leading up to the Young Survival Coalition’s Tour de Pink annual event this September.
Please meet our first Happening Survivor, Kristie. Kristie was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the young age of just 31, diagnosed shortly after unintentionally finding a lump in her right breast. Kristie’s story will remind you to follow your intuition, because had she not gone for a second medical opinion (prior to being diagnosed), there is a chance is wouldn’t be here today.
Of course things always happen when we least expect it. Kristie was an active, care-free 31 one year old woman. She worked full time at a local government job helping others, loved spending time with her nieces and nephews, enjoyed the outdoors, worked out at the gym four times a week, and had recently lost fifty pounds. Kristie was enjoying life and had no reason to believe there was a dangerous curve in the road ahead. Then, Kristie unexpectedly found a lump in her right breast; she had diagnostic testing done that would be referred to as routine for women in their forties, but was definitely not routine for a young woman like Kristie. Testing was done in order to diagnose the
suspicious mass, including a biopsy of the surrounding tissue, all to be told that “You’re too young for breast cancer”. Her gut said otherwise, which lead Kristie to seek another opinion even though she had no family history of breast cancer. This time the doctor revealed the diagnosis everyone woman fears-Breast Cancer. Unfortunately Kristie’s cancer had already progressed to stage 3 in both her breast and lymphnodes; she required surgery right away and faced numerous chemotherapy and radiation treatments ahead of her. Kristie said “I never thought, I’m going to die, I just thought, I wanted kids”.
Kristie’s treatment began with surgery to remove the infected breast tissue and 21 lymphnodes from her right side (underarm). She then began the steps towards motherhood, should she ever be able to have children in the future. She began preparing for invitro to ensure that one day she could have children despite the challenges ahead. Invitro begins with daily hormone injections followed by removal of a woman’s eggs during ovulation, which are then fertilized and frozen for future implantation. The first bump Kristie faced was early ovulation, ovulating just two days prior to her procedure. Despite the early ovulation, the doctors were able to extract six healthy eggs, but not the eighteen they had hoped. Like most single women, Kristie asked the help of her girlfriends to find her
baby’s daddy, an anonymous sperm donor. She reviewed hundreds of donor profiles, sharing them with her friends, saying “it’s worse than online dating”, and finally, selecting one. Doctors were able to successfully fertilize four of the six eggs; creating Kristie’s “Ice Babies” as she calls them.The next step in Kristie’s journey to being cancer free was chemotherapy, eight aggressive treatments over a three month period. She recalls the loss of her hair, which she choose a stylish summer buzz cut, and says that she used a lint roller every day on her head to remove the hairs that were falling out. Allowing her nieces and nephews to put pieces of tape on her head to see the hair when the tape was removed. As always Kristie found a little fun in everything she did, and made the worst of times seem a little brighter with a little laughter.
Following chemotherapy, Kristie came to the tough decision to undergo a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction due to her young age and the stage of her cancer. Kristie had her surgery on her 32nd birthday in 2008. Doctors inserted inflated expanders after removing her breast tissue, so that she could later receive breast implants. Then along came another bump in an already frightening journey, she got a “flat tire” as she puts it. A doctor had accidentally popped one of the expanders with a needle during a biopsy for another suspicious lump, causing her to undergo radiation with the “flat” until it was later substituted for an implant. Once her surgery was complete she moved on to the radiation stage of her treatment. Undergoing multiple rounds of radiation every day, Monday through Friday into the winter, finishing just before Christmas.
Come April 2010 Kristie finally received her breast implants and nipple reconstruction, unfortunately the surgery was not a success the first time, or the second time, or even the seventh time. Kristie had an unbelievable seven surgeries to try and save her implants, which would not heal properly on the right side due to the radiation treatments she had. Finally after seven painful and emotionally draining surgeries, Kristie decided to have the right breast implant removed. Unable to wear a prosthetic breast, she later had the left removed as well. Kristie remained breast-less for two years after that. As one can imagine, the mental and emotional effects of everything Kristie had gone through were enormous. She suffered from insomnia and depression as one can only imagine someone in her shoes would. Luckily Kristie found YSC, the Young Survival Coalition, a support system for young women fighting breast cancer. YSC offers education, support groups, online message boards, social events and more to their members (all under age 40) and caregivers. Philly Happening asked what drew Kristie to YSC…
“One day I went to church, which wasn’t for me. So I tried a support meeting at Holy Redeemer Hospital, where I sat next to an eighty year old woman and many other women much older than me. Many who were not only older, but married, had children and some even had grandchildren. And I realized that this wasn’t a place for me, these weren’t people I could relate to. So I searched online where I found YSC and I decided to check out a local meeting. I instantly felt a bond with the other women, who were my peers. The women I have met are amazing!”
Kristie has kept YSC in her life, taking advantage of their many services, including online message boards, conferences, educational events, social events such as crafting and picnics, and much more. If you or someone you know would benefit from YSC’s services, click here. Kristie has commented many times about the wonderful friends she has met because of YSC, and she highly recommend fellow young survivors reach out to their local organization.
Kristie is happy to announce that she remains cancer free for 4 years & 4 months. She looks forward to making it to the five year milestone in 2013. Most recently she had another surgery, a procedure called a tramflap, which uses your own skin, fat and blood vessels from the abdomen to create breasts. This cutting edge technique is less likely to be rejected since there are not any artificial parts. Unfortunately this is not a procedure that every reconstruction surgery currently offers. Although Kristie is still healing she looks fabulous, and is very happy to have had the surgery. She continues to have testing every 3 months to make sure there is no evidence that cancer has returned.
Due to the medications Kristie was taking to keep her body in a menopausal state to lower the risk of any cancer returning, she now has sever liver damage. She chose to discontinue taking these specific medications, choosing “quality over quantity”
Where’s life take you after cancer? Kristie says “nothing scares me anymore. If it’s my time, it’s my time”. With that fearless attitude and love of life, Kristie will be jet setting off to Montana later this month for a white water kayaking adventure courtesy of First Descents, an organization that offers free outdoor adventures to cancer survivors and fighters. She will then participate in the 2012 Tour de Pink which kicks off in Philadelphia on September 27th , for a three day journey to Washington D.C. All participants of the Tour de Pink conduct fundraising for their team to support all the wonderful services YSC provides to young women. If you would like to support Kristie and her team please visit her Tour de Pink page to make a donation. Every little bit helps them reach their goal. Kristie says that Tour de Pink is a challenge that allows her to challenge herself and she is going to try her very best.
To donate to the Fighting Phillies Tour de Pink team please click here.
5 Fun Facts about Kristie:
#1 Kristie hates pink, ironically
#2 She loves hanging out with people who make her laugh
#3 She loves her alone time, especially on road trips with just herself and her music
(no one should be subjected to her singing she says)
#4 Kristie loves the rumble of an old muscle car
#5 Hot dogs are her guilty pleasure
Want to nominate someone as a Happening Survivor? Click to email us today!