“I am a true believer in yearly mammograms,” said Pat Kidwell, 63, of Vestaburg. “I have been cancer free for seven-plus years. Every normal mammogram is a blessing.”
Kidwell’s health history starts like many others. She began routine mammograms at age 40 and has no family history of breast cancer.
In 2005, “I had my annual mammogram, expecting normal results as every other year,” she said.
However, in the days that followed that annual test, she received a letter indicating results were not normal. She went for another mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy, and then came face-to-face with her doctor as he told her the news no one wants to hear: “You have breast cancer.”
“It’s scary to have the word ‘cancer’ associated with you,” said Kidwell, remembering her initial thought after being diagnosed with breast cancer. “One day you’re healthy, the next day you are a cancer patient, visiting an office filled with some very sick people.”
That mammogram detected the tumor early – it was a 1.7 cm. mass in her left breast. It was not palpable, even by doctors who knew its exact location. The sentinel lymph node (usually the first lymph node to which cancer cells spread from the primary tumor) was negative, but one of the smaller nodes was positive for micrometastasis, meaning a small amount of cancer cells had spread from the primary tumor.
SO MUCH TO LIVE FOR
Kidwell was determined to keep a positive attitude, which may be one of the reasons she’s still here today. She had so much to live for and cringed at the thought of not growing old with her husband or being there for her children or the birth of her grandchildren.
Many women in her situation choose to keep quiet. Not Kidwell. She shared the news with her entire church congregation and asked for their prayers.
“You can’t believe how many women came forward and said that they too had been treated for breast cancer,” she said. “I have always felt that by being open about my breast cancer, perhaps, I can help someone else.”
The doctors wanted to start chemotherapy in December of 2005. However, Kidwell’s treatment was postponed when her partial mastectomy drain fell out prematurely, causing the wound to burst. Once healed, she began chemotherapy treatment in January 2006, going six times at three-week intervals.
The effects of chemotherapy made it more and more difficult to keep up with the demands of her job as a kindergarten teacher. She took off two days with her first treatment and three days with the second. The effects were worse on the third and fourth days.
“After that, I realized that my kids were better off with my wonderful sub, Chasta Langworthy, than they were with me not feeling well,” she said. “I took off a week for the remaining four chemos.”
In May of that year, she began the first of 33 rounds of radiation and was able to teach and drive herself to Alma for appointments.
“The radiation treatments were easier than chemo,” she said. “The only side effect that I experienced was soreness toward the end, similar to a bad sunburn.”
Kidwell’s tumor was estrogen-positive, so after she finished treatment, she took Arimidex, an estrogen blocker medication. Healthy bones need estrogen, and during the course of taking Arimidex, a bone density test revealed signs of early osteoporosis. Doctors prescribed Fosamax to improve her bone density. Bt once she was five years out from treatment, she was able to stop taking Arimidex and then quit Fosamax once her bone scan was normal.
DEALING WITH HAIR LOSS
Kidwell’s hair fell out 12 days after her first chemo treatment, so she wore a wig from January to April.
“I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and it just wasn’t me,” she said. “So, after spring break and when it began to be warmer, I started wearing kerchiefs and felt more like myself again.”
Kidwell said she was honest with her students and told them the medicine she was taking to get better caused her hair to fall out, but it would grow back.
“They were good with my not having hair,” she said. “I have great friends who would send me a card just when I needed a pick-me-up. There was a beautiful scarf waiting for me in the car after my first chemo treatment. Little gestures made a world of difference, letting me know that I was not alone.”
GETTING THROUGH DIFFICULT TIMES
Kidwell is thankful for the wonderful support system she had during her illness.
Her husband, Steve, went to all her appointments and supported her through the emotional and physical changes of breast cancer. Her children, Matt and Sarah, lived out of state during this time, so it was hard for them – wanting to be there to support their mother and being so far away.
“Watching my mother struggle from afar was a helpless feeling,” said Sarah. “My inability to be there for her was very hard. By not being able to hold her hand and support her between biopsies, radiation, chemotherapy and the recovery process, left me with a lot of guilt … even to this day. This experience did show me her incredible strength and faith in God as well as how great a support system she had enveloping her with my dad, close family, friends, neighbors and their church family.”
Kidwell’s sister, Susie, is a nurse and was her advocate before, during and after surgery, chemo and radiation. And she said her church family held her up and her kindergarten class and their parents were wonderful.
“The children accepted me and gave me so much love during my chemo and radiation,” she said. “The doctors, nurses, techs at the Alma Cancer Center were fantastic. Their smiling faces, compassion and caring ways made all the difference during my visits and treatment days.”
ADVICE TO OTHERS
When facing the variables associated with a breast cancer diagnosis, Kidwell says it’s important to be informed so you feel confident in your treatment plan. She also said not to be afraid to ask questions and to immerse yourself in positivity.
“As the treatments are attacking the cancer, be sure to do little things to pamper yourself – positive things to build you back up,” she advised.
Kidwell has been in remission since June 2006. Today, being proactive with her health by eating well and exercising is important to her.
She does water aerobics and takes vitamin supplements and shakes. It gives her peace of mind in knowing she’s doing all she can to avoid another bout with breast cancer.
“I still sweat every year when I go for my mammogram,” she said. “There are no guarantees. I’m just doing everything I can to stay healthy.”
Kidwell fought hard, and although she encountered difficult times, she never gave up. She said she has a lot of living left to do. She retired from teaching in 2007 and was blessed with a grandson in 2008.
“I am thankful that I am here to experience kindergarten with him this year,” she said.
Kidwell doesn’t have any set plans for post-retirement years. She spends time with a quilting group at church and is involved with the United Methodist Women at the district level.
“We have no huge plans,” she said, “besides hanging close to home and enjoying life.”
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