Just as no two people are the same, no two healing journeys are identical. These stories of cancer diagnoses and medical crises are shared with the hopes of reminding everyone that patients are not alone and that compassion is part of health care.
In 2011, Michael “Mike” A. Davis had a lump on his chest that was growing and beginning to itch. On Jan. 30, 2012, he was diagnosed with breast cancer and his initial reaction was one of total shock. “I was also scared, embarrassed and very nervous,” he said.
His wife and daughter had gone with him for the mammogram and biopsy, and he told the news to his best friend in Baton Rouge. “I was honestly so embarrassed I hardly told anyone at first and then began slowly to let others know,” he said.
He had a mastectomy on his right chest to remove a 3 centimeter tumor, along with a second tumor under his arm and three lymph nodes. Mike gives a shoutout to Baptist Health Hospital in Lexington and Dr. Badine for their excellent treatment and care.
Mike’s wife Dian was the tough one. She took off work to take care of her husband and remained dedicated and determined every day, even when Mike was ready to quit many times. There were quite a few bad days during chemo, and the only thing that didn’t taste like rusty nails was grape Gatorade. To this day, when Mike drinks one or smells it, memories rush back.
While he was going through chemo, Mike says he didn’t like to hear trite phrases like ‘Hang in there’ or ‘You got this’ but what was far worse were the friends who were scared to say anything at all. “Several of my golf buddies just came up and hugged me and I will never forget those people,” he said.
During his medical crisis Mike realized he was not invincible. “I learned I needed people,” he said. “And I learned how much I love God, life, family and friends. Every day is a blessing and my faith and my family’s faith has grown by leaps and bounds.” Now he sees the beauty and wonder in the small things of life, like watching sunrises and sunsets, sitting on the ocean, having simple conversations with friends, watching people interact, and “playing horrible golf and playing with my three grandkids.”
Mike lives in Nicholasville, works in Winchester at a life science company called DSM, and spends time on the road in the U.S. and Europe. He tells his story often, because it is his goal “to make sure no other man suffers like I did due to lack of knowledge.” He got involved with Susan G. Komen Kentucky and he serves as vice president on the organization’s board of directors.
“We celebrate survivors as much as we possibly can, we mourn the ones we lost, and there is a third category,” Mike said, “the forever fighters.” He recently learned about the forever fighters, the people with cancer who are still taking treatment and don’t consider themselves survivors, but they are surviving. While Mike is out in the world sharing his own story to help others, he is promoting and demonstrating compassion all around.
“This will be a strange statement and not understood by most, but now all the surgery, chemo and radiation is completed, I wa able to take a bad experience and turn it into good,” Mike said. “I cherish life, friends and family so much.”
A mammogram on Sept. 5, 2014, showed Kimberly Beyer that she had two types of cancer in her right breast: DCIS and tubular carcinoma. “I was only 47 years old and just didn't think it would happen to me,” she said. Five weeks later she had a mastectomy and has taken Tamoxifen since then.
Kimberly’s reaction to the diagnosis was one of fear, especially at the possibility of not being there for her four daughters when they needed her. “I was terrified that I would have the BRCA genes and pass them to my daughters,” she said. She is so grateful it turned out that she was negative for that test.
Her husband was the first to know about her cancer diagnosis. “It took me a while to tell friends and family because I was honestly in shock,” Kimberly said. She did wind up posting on Facebook to let people know, and to remind them to have their own mammograms done. “I skipped a year and so my situation might have been different if I had gotten my mammograms every year as I was supposed to.”
Prayer helped her through the hard days the mastectomy. “Prayer and more prayer,” she said. “I also did some meditation to calm myself.” Spending time with her husband and daughters was, is, and always will be her main lifeline. Kimberly is a corporate accountant and owns two boutiques on Frankfort Avenue. The Urban Farmgirls offers women's apparel and Urban Farmhouse Market is a store with gifts and home decor items. She is opening a new boutique on Hurstbourne Parkway in October.
After her surgery, friends came through in small ways that were huge. One friend organized evening meals to be delivered for the Beyer family for a month. Another friend took off work for an entire week. “I was in so much pain and had drainage tubes,” Kimberly said. “I needed help with showers and other activities. She took care of me and that was a total blessing.”
The gratitude list Kimberly has for the people in her life is long. In addition to Alison, Darcy, Kelly, and Tracie, among many others, Kimberly is thankful to Dr. Noel for doing a great job on her reconstructive surgery.
“My diagnosis was truly a blessing. I appreciate so much more than I ever did,” Kimberly said. “I am so grateful for each and every day. I want to travel to different places instead of the same because you just don't know if you will become ill again.”
In 2015, Christy Stone had her daughter, Mia, via a scheduled cesarean section. The baby was fine, but Christy’s life was in danger with massive internal bleeding that was not noticed by medical professionals for 12 hours. “I passed out throughout the entire day,” she said, but she couldn’t get a doctor or nurse to check out her concerns. Finally, during late-night rounds, a physician happened to see her pass out before his eyes, and within 20 minutes she was in surgery\ to fix the internal bleeding. Two surgeries in the same day.
Her hemoglobin was a 6. The normal range is 12 to 15. “I was very close to dying. My blood pressure was 48/20 and they weren’t sure I would make it out of surgery,” Christy said. She chokes up when she thinks about that second surgery. “The worst part of my entire experience was calling my other children and thinking it would be the last time I would talk to them.”
Her son Alex and bonus son Caleb were both 11 years old then. “My husband, Dan, was the rock that kept the rest of my family from falling apart,” she said. “He is the love of my life.”
After the second surgery, Christy needed blood transfusions to get her blood pressure back up, but then she had trouble breathing afterward and wound up in ICU with what was later diagnosed as a rare condition called transfusion-related acute lung injury. “It turned all the blood in my lungs and capillaries into cottage cheese. I had about an eighth of my lung to breathe in,” Christy said. “I almost did not make it. I was upset that they would not listen to me, and I’m in health care!”
She is the site administrator for Louisville CyberKnife, a cancer treatment machine at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center. A week before she had her baby girl, Christy had a strange feeling and started telling people at work, “If I don’t come back, this is where this is and here’s how to do this.”
After her daughter, Mia, was born, Christy had three miscarriages over the next three years, including one at 20 weeks. Then she got pregnant again and had a baby boy in March 2019 through another scheduled C-section. “I went to a different small hospital here in Louisville with one-on-one nursing care, which is what I was looking for,” she said. “They were listening to me.”
At Baptist Health La Grange, Christy told the story of her previous birth and ensuing complications to Dyna, a nurse who listened to every word. The 2019 C-section for little Parker went well, and Dr. Matt McDanald and his team determined there was no internal bleeding. Four hours later, though, Christy’s blood pressure bottomed out and the nurse got the physicians and medical personnel together. They acted swiftly, even getting doctors from Cleveland Clinic on the phone as everyone tried to figure out what was going on. The La Grange medical team was able to have Christy out of the hospital in 5 days instead of 10.
She has been through a battery of tests and genetic testing, but Christy still doesn’t have a definitive medical diagnosis, although there is a suspicion of a hidden blood-clotting disorder. All she knows now is that she is taking care of herself as best she can, and that human connection saved her life. “The nurses at that hospital in La Grange listened to me,” she said. “Without them I truly would not have made it the second time. They saved my life!”
At the age of 37, Caroline Johnson had a baseline mammogram. Just under three years later, she found a lump in her left breast and proceeded straight to her OB-GYN. She had a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy in the same day, and was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 4, 2013.
“I was devastated,” Caroline said. “My oldest daughter was 10 at the time and our middle daughter was away at summer camp. Telling my children about my breast cancer diagnosis was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Our youngest son, Michael, was 8 years old.”
Michael was born with a rare genetic disorder\ called Bosch-Boonstra-Schaaf optic atrophy syndrome. The Johnson family already had a CaringBridge site set up for him, so Caroline used the page to communicate her cancer diagnosis with friends. “My husband, Michael, stood by me through this entire journey,” Caroline said. “He places me and his children second to God and I am so lucky to have him in my life. Many marriages end in divorce, even without health challenges, and I feel blessed to continue to have his support.”
She saw two different breast surgeons. The first one recommended a double mastectomy and a tummy tuck that would serve to reconstruct her breast, a procedure known as a TRAM flap. “After a second opinion and much reading and research, we opted to go the less invasive route,” Caroline said. She had a lumpectomy on the left breast, but a few days later the surgeon called to say that the margin was not clear on the pathology report.
“A week later, I was back in surgery having a left breast mastectomy. My decision was based on fear that the cancer was still present in my body.”
Then she had four rounds of chemotherapy, followed by radiation and breast reconstruction surgery. About a month prior to having the tissue expander removed and replaced with a breast implant, an unfortunate infection necessitated having the reconstructed breast removed. “Many women develop infections after radiation and, for this reason, some plastic surgeons recommend waiting until after radiation to start the reconstruction process,” Caroline said. In 2015 she had the TRAM flap to complete the reconstruction successfully.
Caroline’s sister-in-law, a nurse, came with her to the early medical visits and took notes in a notebook. “When you receive a cancer diagnosis, you don’t always hear everything the doctor is saying to you in your initial appointments,” Caroline said. “It was nice to be able to go back and read through the notes later when we had to make hard decisions about treatment.”
She felt comfortable with her doctors and the support they provided, including Dr. Stephen Kelty who performed the surgeries to remove the breast tumor; her plastic surgeon, Dr. R. Thomas; and her oncologist, Dr. John Huber, who continues to follow Caroline for breast cancer screening checkups.
“My faith and family support system is what got me through,” Caroline said. While receiving treatments, she read bible studies and motivational books. “It was the one thing that kept me going and feeling strong through the process.”
When her treatment was complete, Caroline learned that a traumatic experience can result in amazing things. She wanted to help others facing a terminal breast cancer diagnosis, so she founded the nonprofit organization Twisted Pink in June 2014. The inaugural event was a masquerade ball that raised $100,000. Since then the nonprofit has raised almost $1.4 million to fund metastatic breast cancer research.
Most people do not know what metastatic breast cancer is. It is stage IV breast cancer, and there is not yet a cure.
One in 8 women and one in 1,000 men will get breast cancer in their lifetime. Up to 30% of breast cancer patients will experience a recurrence of metastatic breast cancer. This is when breast cancer moves from the breast to other organs. The median survival rate is two to three years and this type of breast cancer is extremely underfunded. An estimated 7% of all research dollars is directed to metastatic breast cancer. Twisted Pink was formed to change these statistics. The mission of Twisted Pink is to extend lives and improve quality of life for late-stage breast cancer patients and their families by funding metastatic breast cancer research.
A routine mammogram in 2007 left Trina Amos with a cancer diagnosis. She was 43 and her first thought was of her son, who was 15 at the time. “Every word that was being said to me beyond ‘you have invasive ductal carcinoma’ was a blur,” she said. “All I could think about was will I be here to see my son graduate? See him get married?”
She was given a pink blanket along with some reading material “like I had just been initiated into a pink club I didn’t sign up for,” she said. “I made my husband carry the blanket out; I didn’t want that ‘door prize.’”
Trina had a bilateral mastectomy, breast reconstruction, eight treatments of dose-dense chemo and a total of 15 surgeries. “I contracted a serious infection during reconstruction, which I have since learned is very common,” she said. “This delayed my reconstruction until after chemo.”
Chemotherapy did a number on her, but one of her doctors reminded her that the hair loss and other side effects were temporary. “This helped me keep going,” Trina said. She also gives lots of credit to her husband, Mark, and son Jordan, along with her mother (who has since passed away), her in-laws, cousins, doctors and “all of the survivor sisters who give me hope.”
Every single day, even the bad days, Trina got up, dressed up and showed up. “I put on my makeup and wig even if I sat in my recliner all day,” she said. Trina likens her scars to a roadmap to places like survival, happiness, strength and her journey to healing.
Most people mean well with their words but they may not have any idea what to say. “As long as they are there to listen to you, that’s all that’s really important,” Trina said. Some of the most helpful actions other people took for her during her treatments were the meals scheduled and provided by her church family, and having someone go with her to every chemo appointment.
Her plastic surgeon’s office was especially helpful. “Dr. Brad Wilhelmi, Chief of Plastics at University of Louisville, has been the best in making sure I was happy with my reconstruction results,” she said.
“I overcame this beast by leaning on my faith, family and my amazing team of doctors,” Trina said. “Cancer truly has given me more than it ever took away. I am a much stronger, happier person than I was 12 years ago.”
Trina lives in Henryville in Clark County, Indiana, aka “the sunny side of Louisville” where she works in insurance sales and service at Gary Gilstrap State Farm Insurance in Georgetown, Indiana. She had always been used to solving her own problems, but being told you have breast cancer isn’t something anyone can solve on their own. “I was somewhat of a control freak at the time,” she said. “This was something I had no control over.” These days she shares her story so that someone else won’t feel alone and will have hope. “That’s what it all about: helping others with what I have learned facing their own new journey.”
She has walked in the Kentucky Oaks Survivors Parade several times, an event that means a great deal to her because it means one more year of survival. “It’s so important to show the thousands in the crowd that there are long-term survivors out here,” she said. “This disease is not an automatic death sentence. It has come so far with survival rates.”