Pink Ladies: Where Are They Now?
When were you diagnosed? I was diagnosed in 1986 with inflammatory breast cancer. Even though I had a poor prognosis at the time, I was blessed with wonderful medical professionals who helped in my recovery.
What has your journey been like since then? Since my original diagnosis, I’ve had endometrial cancer. I also have been bothered with lymphedema in both arms due to the surgical removal of lymph nodes. Radiation was also much different then. They radiated the entire chest area. As a result, three years ago I had to have my chest wall and skin replaced with skin grafts. I feel fortunate that I have had such wonderful doctors who have been able to help me over the years. Even though I have a few limitations, I have been able to live a full and productive life.
How have you been involved in the Race? When I was first diagnosed, I found that there was very little information available about breast cancer. My sister, Peggy Kirby, and the Junior League took on a project to raise awareness. That is how the Race got started 30 years ago.
The Race is my special day. I love that day. It is thrilling for me to stand on the stage with Jackie and look out and see what we have accomplished. Family and friends come out to celebrate the survivors and honor those who have gone before us.
How has having breast cancer impacted your life? Had I not been diagnosed with breast cancer, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet and become friends with so many wonderful people. As a middle school teacher at Patrick Henry for 40 years, I was able to help many students through difficult times when someone they loved was dealing with cancer. Talking to someone like me who was surviving and thriving made the experience a little less scary. Back when I had chemo it was literally in a closet. I am proud that I was able to help in a small way with the building of the beautiful Prairie Center. It provides a calm and serene environment where people can go for treatment. I am happy that perhaps I have made a small difference in the lives of cancer patients and their families.
Read more of Judy’s story
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer? I was diagnosed in July 2009 at age 38. During my annual appointment, it seemed like an angel nudged me to mention that I was experiencing a very subtle change in my breast. It seemed so minor, I almost didn’t mention it. I figured if there was no pain and no palpable lump, there was nothing to worry about. The odd sensation ended up being HER2-positive breast cancer. Although it was caught at stage I, receptors were moving out into my body and I was given the news no one ever thinks they will hear. Standard treatment involved a double mastectomy, chemo and Herceptin infusions.
What has your journey been like since then? I have never had a recurrence of cancer; I’m doing great now. I’m healthy and living a blessed life.
How have you been involved in the Race? As a middle school teacher at Patrick Henry School in Sioux Falls, I had been on Judy Davis’ team for about five years before I was diagnosed. Around that time is when she retired, and so I picked up the torch and have continued to have a team that involves staff and students. I remember stepping into the Avera Race Survivor Pavilion the first time. I was overcome with so many emotions knowing I made it through the worst part and I was into the next phase of my survivorship. So, I am blessed to give back to others having to go through cancer to help them feel extra welcome on the day of the Race.
It’s just so empowering to see people banding together in support of breast cancer. I’m here today because of the advanced treatment that Avera is able to provide for breast cancer. My own little motto that helps me keep life in balance is “I have been given life. So, I will do things to help others because I can!”
How has having breast cancer impacted your life? It has given me so much more perspective about the important things in life and not taking little things for granted. I was given a second chance at life. I’m very open about being a breast cancer survivor to my students and others. I’ve learned that every birthday is a gift, so I’m never shy about telling others my age!
Read more of Karen’s story
When were you diagnosed? I was diagnosed in 2007 at age 40
What has your journey been like since then? Compared to other people, my journey has been smooth sailing, although it seems like a lot happened in the first two years after I was diagnosed and had my initial surgery. I found out through a genetic test that my body didn’t metabolize Tamoxifen. My cancer was estrogen driven and Tamoxifen blocks estrogen, so I was at risk to develop other cancers. An alternate drug resulted in too many side effects. So I had a total hysterectomy to prevent future estrogen-driven cancers. Last Mother’s Day was 10 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and realizing that was such a good feeling – wow, I made it!
How are you involved in the Avera Race? My husband, Phil, ran in the Race for the first time the day after I was diagnosed.
Since then, every year, my team of HOPE (Helping Others through Prayer and Example) has been faithfully running. I help with planning logistics and the survivorship tent. It’s a sisterhood and being involved in the Race has opened my eyes to the need to be a place of belonging for all kinds of cancer.
How has having breast cancer impacted your life? It’s helped my whole family grow stronger, learn to be sensitive to the needs of others, and show kindness. All in all, I can’t imagine my life if I had not had cancer. I can’t imagine it being any better than it is now. For women who are newly diagnosed, whatever you are feeling is normal for you.
I remember being in that place and not being able to think beyond the moment.
But before you know it, an hour has gone by or a day has gone by without it consuming every moment.
Read more of Kristie’s story
When were you diagnosed? I was diagnosed in 2000 at age 42.
What has your journey been like since then? Seventeen years later I now have a yearly mammogram and I’ve had no recurrence. It’s always in the back of my mind when I go in for a screening but it gets better over time.
How are you involved in the Avera Race? I volunteered before my diagnosis but after I finished treatment I wanted a bigger role. I started helping organize volunteers and that turned into being the volunteer coordinator for the last several years. It’s an overwhelming feeling that day. When I was first diagnosed one of the things that helped me was seeing women 10 to 15 years after diagnosis. It gave me so much hope. I hope that I give that sense of hope to someone else now.
How has having breast cancer impacted your life? It taught me I had strength. If you had told me shortly after going through a divorce that God would put cancer on me and I’d have the strength to get through it, I would have thought it was impossible. It teaches you when life gets tough the tough get going. It also helped me realize the support I had from friends and family. I don’t think I cooked a meal for six months!
Read more of Jean’s story