You often hear of people being diagnosed with cancer, but you never think it would happen to you. At 30-years-old and mother to my newborn Colin, I thought I was invincible. Then one night as I was rocking him to sleep, he pushed against my chest and I winced in pain. I felt the lump immediately. The blood rushed from my head to my toes in fear, but I went to bed convincing myself it was just a clogged milk duct.
On May 13, 2014, I was diagnosed with Stage II Triple Negative Invasive Ductile Carcinoma. I was also told that I would likely never be able to have children again. I was given the option to freeze my eggs. However, due to the aggressive nature of TNBC, I was urged to start chemotherapy immediately. I underwent six months of chemotherapy (Adriamycin/Cytoxan, followed by Taxotere), 29 rounds of radiation, a double mastectomy and multiple reconstructive procedures, including DIEP flap and T-dap flap reconstruction.
I remember early on in my diagnosis, I noticed signage publicizing the various patient programs for cancer “survivors.” I asked my nurse, “when do you become a survivor?” Her profoundly impactful response was “the day you are diagnosed.” That is the day I started living like a survivor, and not like a victim.
Today, I am three years in remission. My scars have faded and each passing year brings a sigh of relief and some comfort. Mentally, I am stronger and often remind myself that “I beat cancer, I can do this!” Other aspects have proven more difficult.
For instance, last year, when my now four-year-old son asked for a brother or a sister for Christmas, my husband and I had to come to terms with the reality that we probably would not be able to grant that gift to him. But here’s the twist… against the odds, I am pregnant with baby number two! Proof that God’s will is greater than medical statistics.
Overall, the cancer journey is an all-consuming one, mentally, emotionally and physically. I was initially preoccupied about not surviving – fearing that my son would grow up knowing me only by my picture, and that my husband would be robbed of his partner and “happily ever after.” I have since realized that it’s how a person responds in the face of adversity that defines them, not an illness. I will instill that into my children as they take on the journey of life, and I urge those reading this to not lose sight of your hopes and dreams in the face of cancer. Keep smiling. Keep dreaming.
Bio: Katie DeVries Kelly is a mother, wife, daughter, sister to two (as a younger sibling to one and an identical twin to the other) and marketing professional. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 30 years old. Since then, she has been devotedly instilling courage and strength in numerous young breast cancer patients.