I was breast-feeding my youngest when I found the first lump. The diagnosis was stage 3 breast cancer. So I did chemotherapy. I had a double mastectomy. I had radiation. And then I thought I was done. I thought that no boobs equaled no cancer. But that’s not always how it works, and at my second three-month check-up, a test showed that a liver enzyme was elevated. My doctor knew what that meant. She sent me for a bone scan and there it was. I have metastatic breast cancer in my spine and my bones. ER/PR +, HER2-, BRCA – breast cancer.
The diagnosis was a punch in the gut. I didn’t even know what metastatic disease meant. I didn’t like how I felt on re-diagnosis, and I didn’t want anyone else to have that horrible experience. One night I had 15 minutes before going to dinner, and I had my hair done and my make-up on, so I grabbed my phone and made a flash-card video. It’s not rocket science; plenty of people have made them. I just wanted to help educate people, so that every man and woman would know that you don’t have to have breasts to have a recurrence of breast cancer. I made it to help metastatic breast cancer patients explain their situation to family members and family members to explain it to other people.
I was hoping maybe 1,000 people would see it, but the response was overwhelming. So, I started a Facebook page as a support system for other people. The hashtag #Lifer just came to me. Everyone uses the term “survivor,” but I’m not a survivor. I’ll never be cancer free; I’m in this for life. And that’s a message I would like other people to get. People need to live intently, to know that there is a purpose to every struggle. Yes, cancer slows me down at times—I’m on my fifth round of chemo—but what I can do while I’m here is really live and help others to see that. When you find the purpose of your struggle it gives you great comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days, I cry, I’m depressed—and I do realize people die from this disease. But when I get depressed I make myself stop, because it does not help me in any way. It takes self-discipline, but you can do it.
I’m a cancer patient first and a mom right behind that, but I do try to make time for other lifers. People contact me constantly; they ask me about their treatment plans or about whether they need a recheck. A woman wrote me yesterday. She had finished her initial treatment—and then two weeks later, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Because of my video, when her doctor told her she was prepared, she knew what he meant. That woman validated my existence.
Note: Holley Kitchen passed away on January 12, 2016.