In Kim’s fight with cancer, strength and inspiration come from unexpected sources
Numbed by the news of breast cancer, Kim, 45, first withdrew from family, friends and work. She eventually realized she had to fight the cancer. Her family and the staff of Geisinger were there to lead her through.
In December 2007, a mammogram was part of Kim’s annual physical. This was as routine as taking height and weight measurements, until staff at her physician’s office called her in for a biopsy. The mammogram showed a cluster of calcifications. Though most often harmless, such a cluster of tiny calcium deposits, warrant further testing.
“I had no lump or any other abnormality, so this was quite unexpected news,” she says. The results of a stereotactic breast biopsy, a procedure that involves using a needle to locate and remove suspicious tissue, brought more news.
“Several days after the biopsy,” Kim recalls, “I got the diagnosis: invasive ductile carcinoma. Breast cancer.
“Everything stopped for me then. Everything was different. I felt different.”
Kim did not want to consider what this could mean to her husband of 19 years, Kenny, or to their teen-aged daughter and pre-school aged son. She was in a numbing fog, not sure what to do, to think, to feel.
“I felt doomed for a few weeks, then I realized what I had to do,” she says. “I realized that everyone who hears this news is the same, that I’m not the only one dealing with this. I decided that I was going to take this head on.”
“I’ll stick with Geisinger”
Kim knew Geisinger would be her choice for care.
“Geisinger was an easy choice,” she says. “Doctors there have always taken great care of me.”
Numbed by the news of breast cancer, Kim realized she had to fight. Her family and the staff of Geisinger were there to lead her through.
Vickie Keeler: Breast Nurse Navigator
In a newly created position at Geisinger, Vickie Keeler, RN, BSN, helps people like Kim navigate through the procedures, examinations and treatment important to recovery.
Both of her children were born at Geisinger hospitals. Also, when Kim was just out of college, she had turned to Geisinger physicians in Danville to finally diagnose and treat her with Crohn’s disease, a condition of the digestive tract that physicians elsewhere had misdiagnosed for years.
“My doctor was like my Dad, always watching over me,” she says. “I feel like they’ve saved my life more than once already, so I knew I was going to stick with Geisinger.”
As Kim prepared for surgery, her family rallied around.
“My husband was my strength. My children were my inspiration,” she says.
In addition, just as Kim had decided to face cancer head-on, her sister, Lisa made a similar choice. She decided to step up in an amazing way, to be by her sister’s side during surgery, and later through chemotherapy treatments.
“She became such an important support. She was so selfless,” Kim says with grateful emotion. “She had this cancer with me.”
More welcomed support
Confident in her surgeon and with a strong circle of family and friends, Kim scheduled surgery to remove the cancerous cells, calcifications and lymph node. On the day of surgery, her network of support grew in yet another welcomed way.
Geisinger Health System had just hired its first “breast nurse navigator,” a professional dedicated to helping people like Kim to navigate through the procedures, examinations and treatment important to her recovery. Vickie, Kim’s breast nurse navigator, set up appointments, explained procedures, and shared practical tips that were important during treatment and recovery.
“She even came with me to my doctors’ appointments,” Kim says, recalling with surprise and gratitude the first time she saw her there. “There’s so much information to learn, and having a medical person like Vicky with me helped so much.”
From surgery and through chemotherapy, Kim learned she could rely on Vickie’s expertise and compassion.
“I know it was Vickie’s job, but it was so much more than that,” Kim says. “Truly, she became a very good friend. And she remains so today.”
With Vickie and her sister, Lisa, at her side, Kim continued to fight breast cancer head on.
“I was grateful that my doctor was so thorough during the surgical treatment,” she says. After surgery, her oncology team scheduled Kim for two types of chemotherapy. The first and toughest type included four months of intravenous medications.
“I was lucky that the side effects weren’t as severe as what others have,” Kim says. “But it was hard.”
The second round of medication, designed to prevent cancer from recurring, had fewer side effects.
More support from Geisinger staff
“We can’t say enough about the staff during chemotherapy,” Kim says of her and Lisa’s regular visits. “It’s surprising, but we joked then and we even joke now, that Geisinger’s staff made us look forward to my treatment days. Though I would sit there for hours with medication dripping into my veins, they actually made it enjoyable.
“I wouldn’t trade my experiences with them for experiences anywhere else in the country,” Kim says seriously. “That’s how important they became to me.”
Kim completed chemotherapy in May 2009. Today, as a direct result of her experience with breast cancer, she’s witnessed the strength of her family’s love and care. She’s grown much closer to her sister. And her appreciation for her caregivers, though strong before, has taken on deeper meaning.
From terrible to positive
“I’d received this devastating news that changed my life in a moment,” she says. “But this terrible situation turned out to be a positive, all because of my family and the staff at Geisinger.
“I made the decision to fight this cancer, to commit to Geisinger to see me through it. What really, really surprised me more than anything else, however, was the commitment Geisinger made to me, too.