From Survivor to Conqueror
I ate well. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t do drugs. I was a marathon runner. I was too healthy to be sick….
It was one of those California mornings: overcast and gloomy. When I looked outside, I saw that it was actually raining…Oh well I thought… It’s just going to be one of those days…There’s no way it could get worse…Boy was I wrong.
You see, I belong to an unique club…Where One out of three people in the USA belong to… but it’s a membership no one wants to be a part of… that you cannot quit from…and I don’t want YOU to be a member of…
Today I am going to share with you all how I received my club membership, my connection with the doctor and club life...
I was training to qualify for the Boston Marathon. My training was tapering down and I was still tired. That same week I found a bump under my armpit. I made an appointment with my doctor. She ordered a complete blood panel. It came back ok. She ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound.
I had to beat a specific time at the Napa Valley Marathon to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I put my heart and soul into it. It was one of the most important things in my life. I trained hard, ate well, slept well, and avoided unhealthy things. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t do drugs…
That weekend I ran the Napa Valley Marathon and qualified. I was on cloud 9! I was indestructible. Discipline, Determination and Drive as my father would say! My life was running like clockwork. But… I made my appointments with my doctor. After a complete blood panel, followed by a mammogram, an ultrasound and a scan my world turned upside down.
I remember walking into a hospital in Orange County for my appointments. Never worried. Never scared. I ate well. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t do drugs. I was a marathon runner. I was too healthy to be sick…. My scans were completed and I was waiting for the radiologist to tell me, “All clear. Have a nice day. ” … But instead, he came out and told me I needed to come back for a biopsy… Now I was scared! What was wrong? Cancer still had not crossed my mind.
The following Monday, I went in for the biopsy and that Wednesday I would find out the results. Wednesday, March 23, 2011 was an unusual day…. It was pouring rain in sunny Southern California. It never rains here. My mom and I were called back into an exam room; we waited and waited and waited. I paced the hallway…. I found a nurse and asked her if she had the results from the biopsy. She came into the room and crushed me.
“Kandace, I’m sorry. You have stage II breast cancer.”
I said, “That’s not possible. I am only thirty years old. I just ran the best marathon of my life.”
Mom and I immediately went into crisis solving mode. A family friend had been diagnosed six months earlier, so mom knew what oncologist and surgeon to ask for….I met my surgeon that evening and my oncologist two days later.
My path of life was forever changed! I had no idea what was going to happen to me, but I knew in my soul that I was going to live: determination, discipline and drive.
In the months to follow, I underwent a lumpectomy removing seventeen lymph nodes, seven of which were cancerous, had twelve rounds of chemotherapy, a blood transfusion, capillary leakage in my lungs, eight months of prednisone, thirty-eight rounds of radiation, ongoing physical therapy for my arm, four years of hormone therapy, and all of the complications that came along the way. I was knocked down over and over again, but I always stood up, brushed myself off and kept fighting. Failure was not an option. As the months of treatment were further and further behind me, I became stronger – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I had a great support system; in fact, I still do. I began working full time again, traveling and living life again.
I was strong. I was going to live. I had a new reality! I was a young breast cancer survivor! I continued seeing my oncologist and having my yearly scans, which were always clear. Always something to celebrate! I reached my five-year cancer free anniversary and boy did we celebrate! I had a party with family, friends, and clients to rejoice such a big milestone.
Six months following my five-year anniversary I felt normal in my new reality: working, running, and of course traveling. Friends would often tease me and say, “Kan, your suitcase is always packed. Where are you off to now?” I’d laugh and excitedly tell them about my next destination.
September 2016 I suffered from edema in my left arm due to the lumpectomy in 2011. I had, and still have, a lymphedema treatment on my arm three times per week to keep the swelling down and to keep the scar tissue to a minimum. It is not my favorite treatment because it hurts when the chiropractor breaks up all the scar tissue. It was my normal 2pm time slot… At one of these regular appointments in September 2016, however, we found a bump in my chest…. I was not concerned given the PET scan six months earlier… Needless to say, it needed to be addressed. I called my oncologist and we set up an appointment to have the bump biopsied…. The results came back negative for cancer, but given my health history we did another scan. I remember sitting on my parent’s deck with my dad having a conversation about my current situation. I said, “Dad, I can handle whatever this is, I just don’t want to look like a cancer patient again”. He said, “I know Kan, I know.”
I will never forget the day I met my mom and three of her closest girlfriends at the imaging center. We were telling funny stories - giggling and laughing. I was called back to have my scan. Half way through, the power went off. I had two options: come back another day or drive across town in rush hour traffic. The five of us hopped in the car. Finally, the scan was completed. I called my doctor and he said he would call as soon as he had the results. One can imagine my level of anxiety.
My doctor called….
I answered the phone praying for good news.
“Hi Kandace, It’s doctor A”. I’m sorry. I have bad news. Your cancer is back and you have tumors all throughout your body. The good news is that the cancer is the same cancer you had before, therefore it is treatable. I’ll have my nurse call you in the morning to get you in to go over all the details.”…
I said, “Ok, thank you.” I hung up the phone, staring into nothing… I began having a conversation with Lulu, my golden retriever. “Lulu,” I said, “I can have my meltdown now and we will still have to retake the exam, or I can keep myself together, take the exam and then have my meltdown.” I took Lulu’s advice. I finished the exam and passed! Later, I threw myself on the floor next to Lulu and had my meltdown. “How could this be happening – to me - yet again?” …Why is this happening again?
Moving forward with my new diagnosis, I was able to secure second opinion. I scheduled an appointment with Dr. James Waisman at the City of Hope. I had an instant connection with him and knew he would be my guide to remission. Dr. Waisman made me feel safe. He was direct and thorough when talking with me. I knew City of Hope was the right place for me. I would be on ten months of oral chemotherapy and shots to create remission. Since my cancer was estrogen positive I made the decision to have my ovaries removed. This was the best decision for my body!
Exercise and nutrition absolutely play a vital role in keeping the mind and body healthy, But I felt my body needed extra support. I enjoy running on the beach. Strength training is a must for me; it keeps my bones strong and reduces stress. Yoga is great for the mind. I currently take daily supplements based on my blood work and receive weekly IV’s of vitamins and minerals.
Being diagnosed with cancer two times as a young female is hard to imagine, and even harder to imagine that it would spread throughout my entire body after I had won the first round. I was thirty years old the first round and thirty-five years old the second round. I often wonder why me, but I always go back to the recognition that cancer is an indiscriminate serial killer without a conscience or morality. I am a positive person and believe the glass is half full. I continue my healthy lifestyle habits: training for half marathons, strength training, frequent infrared saunas and a clean diet, within moderation of course. My life is about balance and purpose: I travel the world because it makes me happy; I spend time with family and friends because I love them; and, I enjoy my career because I help people. I know in my heart that cancer would not have been put on my plate, not once but twice, if I wasn’t strong enough mentally, emotionally, and physically to handle it.
Maybe I was meant to have this journey to help others who were going to be walking in my shoes. Maybe I was meant to have this journey to learn to love myself with compassion and grace. Maybe I was meant to have this journey because it was just the cards I was dealt. Maybe there is no reason. Maybe the decision I made to fight, whatever the obstacle or hardship, was the reason in itself.
I can’t say that what I did was for others, but I truly hope in my heart that people that are in the fight can see my journey that I stumbled through as a beacon in the dark.
Thank you all for being here! A big special thank you from the bottom of my heart to Dr. Waisman, his nurses and the City of Hope team. I am in remission once again and back living a meaningful and joyful life, running half marathons and traveling to new and far off destinations.
If not for the discipline, determination and drive City of Hope has to treat and cure cancer, I may not be standing before you today, sharing the hope and healing I received at City of Hope.
Every club member is unique and so is the connection they have with their doctor. Life in the club is theirs to manage (handle) ?... But I choose to be positive and hopeful…I believe in HOPE…because HOPE springs eternal…I use to have “Long Term” goals…now I have “SHORT” term goals!
I use to think I am and was a “Survivor” of cancer…but now I believe and think I am and will be “CONQUERER” of cancer.
I believe in the triumph of HOPE… over past experience!