My cancer center asked me to speak at their Pink Lighting ceremony last night, the day after I finished treatment. Here is my speech.
My Story <- Click there to watch.
Hello there. My name is Kelly Cantrell. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. And I am an Inflammatory Breast Cancer survivor. It’s been quite a year for me and my family. And while I do not believe things happen for a reason, I believe we have all become better people and so much closer through all of this. Cancer is not easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to walk through. But the lessons I’ve learned and love I’ve gained have shown me that positive things can come out of negative situations. A good friend told me as soon as I told him my diagnosis, Kelly remember this, God didn’t do this to you-He allowed it to happen. And He helped me through it.
Through cancer treatment I just wanted to be normal. Whatever that means. I tried to look ‘normal’ so people would treat me that way. I wanted life to be normal and I decided I was going to do what I could to feel that way. As a 29 year old, I didn’t want to feel different. I was very self conscious of the changes cancer brought to my body. I wore shirts that made me feel empowered. I wore and still wear bracelets that I love. I wore wigs, mostly because I didn’t want to feel the pity. ‘Oh poor girl, she must have cancer.’ Although, looking in the mirror at myself with no hair was extremely difficult so I wore wigs for me too. I wanted the outside to see, what a great wife and mother I was trying to be. I wanted to just be me. Cancer makes you question everything. So little did I know, I would find myself through cancer. You may hear other people who have been through this say, I hate cancer but love what it has done for me. Sounds silly, but it’s so true.
The day I was diagnosed was the easily one of the hardest days of my life. I would love to say it was a blur, but it most definitely was not. I remember it like it was yesterday. I can say, the days leading up to September 19, 2016 we’re without a doubt the most stressful times of my life. I’m a very emotional and anxious person in general, and life had me on edge. I had been battling what I and my doctors thought was a bad case of mastitis. Appointment after appointment and antibiotic after antibiotic, nothing was helping. The day I had a biopsy to ‘rule out cancer’ was one of the loneliest days of my life. I will never forget that feeling and I don’t want to. I want to remember so I can never go there again. While waiting for the results, I realized that that day, September 19, has meaning to me and Justin. That was the day he doctor told us, a couple years prior, that we were pregnant after a year of trying. One of the best days of our lives. It was in that moment that I knew the results. I knew this wasn’t a coincidence. God did that on purpose. He sent me her to help me through what was coming and I just didn’t know it. Then I got the dreaded phone call. I’m sorry, it’s cancer.
I remember the phone call to my husband, the one to my mom. I could walk you to the exact spots where they happened. I remember falling to the ground and my amazing neighbor being there to comfort me. I remember just holding and hugging Savanna. There was no way I was going to let her grow up without me. I would do whatever I could to live to raise her and see her have her own children. I didn’t know much about cancer at the time. I was 29, so I shouldn’t have to right? I have had family and friends go through cancer but it’s different when it’s you. So, I thought the worst. There is nothing nice on the internet about inflammatory breast cancer. IBC affects 1-5% of all breast cancer cases in the US. What I did know what I had to act fast. There wasn’t much time to think. The nature of this disease is to be fast, so I had to be faster. I was terrified. The next couple weeks were a blur. I got my port, I met doctors, so much information was thrown at me. It was overwhelming. I just wanted someone to tell me it was going to be ok and that I was going to be able to watch my baby girl grow up. I was getting, I don’t know, we will try.
Until I met Dr. Schneiderman. I told her the same thing, I just want to watch my daughter grow up. Her response is probably why I chose to have her be my doctor and trust her with my life. She said, of course! You have prom dresses to buy and dances to go to! She made me feel at ease, as much as you can be in this situation. She was confident. Some doctors had made me feel like another patient, just another number and were quick with me. She never made me feel that way, I always felt like she was truly looking out for my best interest. I will never be able to thank her enough. The other person we met when we met Dr was Thelma. Thank God for Thelma. She comforted us, she said all the right things. I think I could talk about Thelma forever. i just love her so much. So when people asked me why I would drive such a distance for treatment when there was doctors locally, my answer was Dr Scheiderman, Thelma and everyone at this cancer center. It’s worth every second of the drive.
So I was diagnosed with Stage something or other Triple Positive Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I honestly do not know what stage, and I really do not care. IBC is similar to mastitis in the physical sense. It presents as a swollen, red and painful breast. Which is why it’s misdiagnosed often. I had an ultrasound before diagnosis and it came back fine. It is not always detected on a mammogram. And a lot of time, there is no lump. I know IBC is diagnosed at stage 3 or 4. It’s a sneaky, aggressive disease. I thank God that mine was contained to my breast. So my best guess would be stage 3, but it just doesn’t matter to me. It would not make me have fought any harder. Statistics about IBC aren’t pretty. I was terrified in the beginning, I still am. So I didn’t read much, I didn’t study up like I do now. I just trusted my doctor.
When the first day of chemo came around, I was scared but ready. I was ready to get the medicine in me to get rid of the cancer. Everyone was just so kind. They understood that I was going through something so scary and they treated me just perfectly. From the office to the nurses, everyone. It was like this through all of chemo. I had 6 rounds and it wasn’t easy by a long shot. But I started feeling a difference in my breast almost right away, so that was helped my mind a little. The time in between chemo treatments was hard. Mentally and physically. It was hard to have a body not cooperating the way I wanted/needed it to. I changed my diet completely and starting doing yoga all through chemo and I think that helped me a ton. It was hard. It’s still hard.
After chemo, came surgery. I’m still not sure I have to right words describe how I felt about a mastectomy, a double at that. In the past, I remember saying, “Oh if I every got breast cancer, just chop them off! Take them now…Dont need them.” Gosh, I had no idea what I was talking about. It’s so easy to say that when you aren’t faced with that decision. I wasn’t given much of an option, as this crazy Inflammatory Breast Cancer is so aggressive. I went to a few surgeons and just wasn’t comfortable. You really have to be your own advocate and find someone that is good at their job and makes you feel at ease. I was trusting these doctors with my life, I needed comfort. And then I found Dr. Maganini in Bartlett. I dont think I could have been more comfortable with a surgeon. When the day came, it was still so surreal. I had always been a big breasted woman so the thought of having nothing was mind boggling. I was upset also, because I loved breastfeeding. I dont know if we will have more children, or if I even can, I just didn’t like the idea of having something I loved so much not be an option any more. I felt like a piece of my woman hood was being taken away. My clothing wouldn’t fit like it used to, everything would be different. I chose not to have reconstruction for many reasons. I just couldn’t go through with it. I had a great surgeon lined up for it, and I cancelled it 2 days before surgery. I do not regret the decision. I dont know what the future holds, but I’m ok with how I am for now. Flat and fabulous right?! The actual surgery was tough, recovery was tougher. I didn’t feel like myself for a while. Physically, it took a good while to feel almost normal. Mentally, I’m still working on it. It’s such a huge transition. It will take sometime to get used to my new body. It’s a new normal. I can be a hot mess today and happy as can be tomorrow. It’s a process. #bettereveryday
After surgery came radiation, which I did in my home town. They were amazing there. Since it was everyday for weeks, I decided it would be easier staying close to home. And I got lucky with some incredible nurses and doctors helping me. I’m glad I did because radiation got me good. I burned to a crisp, was exhausted. I was so glad when it ended.
And standing here now, cancer free!
I have the most amazing family. They were there for me in the darkest time of my life. My mom was always there. I truly have the best mom in the world. I can only strive to be as great of a mom as her. Thank you mama for everything, i love you. My in laws, my dad, my siblings, extended family. Everyone. I will never be able to thank everyone enough. So, so grateful. My little family has become stronger than I ever thought possible. Justin, Savanna and I are the perfect trio. I have the best husband, seriously. He has been incredible this year. I cant imagine being in his shoes through this, but he has handled it so wonderfully. He has helped me in every aspect and been there when I needed him. I have never been a person that wants someone around all the time, just not my thing. I love my time alone. He respects that but is always there when I need him. Spouses of cancer patients really deserve an award. The look on my husbands face as he shaved my head is a look I will never forget. I would have done anything to take his pain away, but I couldn’t. Thankfully, we are back to eye rolls and silly faces when I say something crazy. I love you Justin, I couldn’t have done this without you. And my Savanna, my lifesaver. She knew when I needed to sit and cuddle or needed extra love. But she still needed me to get up with her everyday, feed her, change her diapers, and play with her. If it wasn’t for her, I would have probably been in bed all day. And knowing my past with anxiety and depression, that would not have been a good thing. While it was rough everyday, especially days I was sick, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I know that being up and moving everyday helped me rebound faster and just helped overall. How do you thank a little child for that? She doesn’t even understand that she helped save my life. I hope one day I can find the words to tell her, but I will just forever be grateful. I will do everything in my power to make sure she has the greatest life and is happy, healthy and safe at all times. I love that little girl more than words. She is my world! My best friend on the planet. I thank God everyday for choosing me as her mother. I enjoy every second I have with her. Flowers the other day…
During this crazy thing called cancer, I wasn’t working so things were tough financially. We had a lot of amazing people around us helping. I will never be able to thank them all enough. It was a rough year, and I dont know what I would have done without those amazing people in our lives. Sometimes I think the support team doesn’t get enough credit. All of Team Kelly, from the bottom of my heart, I love and thank you. The support means more than I can put into words. It really did help my mentality knowing I had so many great people in my life praying for me and helping me when needed. From the fundraisers, to the massages, I’m so grateful, we are so grateful. I have met a lot of other women that have gone through or are going through this also. It’s helpful to have someone that gets everything you are going through. I found a lifetime friend because of cancer. Her name is Jennifer and she lives in Dallas. We have never met, but we talk all day everyday. She’s my person. We get what each other are going through and help or encourage when needed. We go together like peas and carrots. I love her dearly.
So now, here I am, a little over a year later a completely different person. A better person. A happier person. How can something so incredibly bad do that to someone? I have no idea. I am definitely a better person but after cancer is not easy, not easy by a long shot. Everyday there is anxiety about it. Oh, this hurts, is it cancer? Oh, I shouldn’t have ate that…cancer loves that. Headache today? Tumor. It’s constant. It’s hard. I’m learning to work through it but I’m accepting that it is just going to be my new everyday. During treatment it was a little different because I knew I was actively doing something to kill the cancer. Now I just have to have faith that it all gone and I’m doing everything I can to prevent it from coming back. I appreciate life in a new light now. I’m not sure anything other than staring at death in the face would have got me to this point. I know what’s important in life to me now. I know what I want out of life. I know who I am. For the first time in my life, I feel confident that i am going in a positive direction in my life. I can not wait to see what my future holds.
The only treatment left was my Herceptin infusions. Of which, I finished the last one yesterday. Terrifying. It was nice to know I had that safety net. I felt like I was doing something proactive against cancer every 3 weeks. I could also come with my mile long list of questions for Dr every 3 weeks. I hope you know that you aren’t getting rid of me that easy. I have your cell number! And Thelma look out for my crazy, frantic texts at all times. Honestly, this cancer center helped save my life. I’m so grateful to you all. From the front desk ladies to Caroline in the finance department to the volunteers. You all made me feel welcome and helped me with anything that I needed. All of the nurses are so kind and caring. You all treated me with such respect when I was your patient. It means more than you know and I thank you. Dr. Schneiderman, thank you. Thank you for making me feel positive in a very negative situation. Thank you for always being so patient when I came with a mile long list of questions. Thank you for entertaining some of my silly ideas or thoughts. You have made a huge impact in my life and I will be forever grateful. Thelma. Thank you for everything. Thank you for always checking on me, for coming to all of my appointments (unless you were on vacation), thank you for making me feel normal in this crazy journey, just thank you. You will be stuck with me forever. I love you Thelma!
I stand here today a completely different person than I was a year ago. But I fully believe a way better person. A happier more complete person. I have grown, and will take these lessons and continue on after cancer. I am closing this chapter and plan to never look back. Thank you all so very much!