Their stories: ‘I’m getting ready to move on’
“My name is Megan Kemmis, I’m 25, I’ve been married three years and I have a 2-year-old son…”
(“Ooh, thank you, honey. Do you want a ball? How’s that?”)
“...and I’m stage four breast cancer…”
(“Good job, Michael! What do you want? Do you want to sit on my lap?”)
“...I had six months of chemotherapy and 25 days of radiation…”
(“Love, of course you’re stuck. You can’t get on a chair that way.”)
“...It’s hard to go from being a new mom to fighting for your life.”
(“OK, up or down? You have to make up your mind.”)
But Michael can’t make up his mind. He wants to be on the chair, then he doesn’t. He’s interested in Play-Doh, then he isn’t. He wants a sucker, then he wants Megan to have a taste. He’s 2. He’s a firecracker.
For now, conversations with Megan are sentence fragments strung on a winding thread, a necessary adaptation for the new man in her life. Even when she’s talking about cancer. Especially when she’s talking about cancer.
It’s hard to dwell on the cloud overhead when Michael’s making a determined break for it.
The cloud is there, though. It began gathering soon after she stopped breast feeding Michael at 6 months. She noticed her left breast didn’t decrease in size. Her doctor suggested it could be a residual milk build-up. She tried pumping, squeezing, everything she could think of, but her breast continued to get bigger.
It couldn’t be cancer, right? She was so young and had no family history of breast cancer.
Then, at Michael’s 1-year check-up, she noticed a lump in her neck in addition to the swollen breast. In retrospect, she realizes how strange it was that her left breast was a full, hard C-cup and her right was a soft B.
This time she got immediate scans, a biopsy, and, on July 1, 2009, she learned that, at age 24, she was stage four, triple-negative breast cancer. The tumor that began in her left breast had spread to her lymph nodes and was trying to push through her nipple. In the week when she was initially denied chemotherapy, it spread to her right breast.
Her first thought was, “Did I give this to my baby?” Pediatricians reassured she didn’t.
Her next thought was, how are we going to afford this? She and her husband, Mike, have health insurance, but bills still can become insurmountable.
She had no choice, though. She had a husband, a baby and every reason in the world to fight.
She began a cycle of 12 chemotherapy treatments. One of the drugs she took was Avastin, which is considered a clinical study when used in breast cancer treatment. Because of that, the chemotherapy treatments were deemed experimental and her insurance denied payment.
Following chemo was a double mastectomy. Before surgery she and her friends had a “bye-bye boobies” party.
Surgery was followed by radiation, followed by more chemotherapy.
Sometimes, she was so sick she had to call a friend or family to come take Michael, so he could have some fun, so he wouldn’t have to bear her illness, too.
The treatments bumped her into pre-menopause, sending her hormones through the spin cycle. Mike was patient. She was frustrated.
Now, she’s resuming a regular menstrual cycle but she’s been advised, because of the chemotherapy, not to have more children.
“I’m happy with one perfect child, but having my option taken away from me is devastating,” she says. “I want to mother. This is what I’ve always wanted.”
She and Mike talk about someday: Someday, maybe they’ll do foster care. Someday, they’ll send Michael off to college and see him married to a wonderful girl.
“I have to be realistic,” she admits. “I have a will, I have money set aside for a funeral, I have a savings account for Michael to try to help him. But I’m not going to focus on that.”
Instead, in less than two weeks, she’ll have breast reconstruction surgery. During the mastectomy, she had very small implants inserted into her chest, and this surgery will replace those with slightly larger ones.
When she went to pick out her new breasts, Michael went with her and put the sample implants down his shirt, jumping around with glee.
That’s what keeps her going, this little blond comet.
“Cancer isn’t a death sentence anymore,” she says. “So, I don’t feel like, oh, she’s the cancer girl. I had cancer and now I’m getting ready to move on. I have a son, I have a husband, and I just want to be as happy as I can be.”