Their stories: ‘It’s hard being the sick person’
Well, here comes a tall drink of water.
She doesn’t walk so much as glide, adding a pinch of boom-chicka-boom to keep it interesting.
You want to look at her chest? Go ahead. She’s got nothing to hide, none of this “eyes up here” defensiveness. But do stop by the eyes — big, clear and blue.
She’s gorgeous. No wonder Chris fell so hard for her.
And Alex, well, she’s with the love of her life. Chris stood by her and now he’s sitting by her in their Grand Junction home — relaxed, comfortable and fending off the over-excited dogs.
The story of Alex Kubick’s breast cancer is really their story. Chris, her husband, will demur — “Internally, I was crushed for her, but then I thought, hell, I’m not the one going through it, it’s not about how I feel” — but on one point Alex is clear: The cancer was in her body, but they endured it together.
But who would even have thought something like this could happen to someone like her? She breezed into Grand Junction three years ago, 38, successful in real estate sales and confident she could make everything good happen. She’d never been married, but soon after arriving here she met Chris. It was love, for him, for his two children. They made it official and began creating their life together.
Last fall, Alex became pregnant and suffered a miscarriage. It was devastating not only for the loss, but because Alex suspects the hormone surge might have contributed to what came after.
In October, she felt something strange in her left breast. She had no family history of cancer, but several years ago had surgery to remove a benign polyp from a milk duct. She followed up with yearly mammograms.
With this new lump, though, something felt wrong. She got a mammogram in early November, then a biopsy. After waiting three weeks for the biopsy results to come from Denver, on Dec. 5 she learned the results were for positive for calcifications. She was stage three with interductal carcinoma. She was 40 years old.
Alex and Chris interviewed oncologists, found one they really liked and began working on a plan. She needed a mastectomy, and she chose to have both breasts removed to lessen the chances of the cancer ever recurring in her right breast.
Her oncologist also did a full-body scan to look for tumors elsewhere. If the scan had found any, Alex couldn’t have done chemotherapy and then, well…
“The relief of that scan not being positive, you just can’t imagine,” Chris says.
“It gave me hope that everything was going to be OK,” Alex adds.
On Jan. 5, she had a double mastectomy. The surgeon also removed lymph nodes, since eight out of 15 were positive for cancer. During that surgery, Alex had expanders put in under her pectoral muscles in preparation for reconstructive surgery.
The expanders were awful.
“They have these edges…” Alex says.
“...so you’d have a corner poking out under your arm,” Chris finishes.
“So uncomfortable. My breasts were square for a while,” she says.
“Yeah, you hated that.”
The edges of the expanders gradually rounded out as they were filled with saline. But that was only the beginning.
Alex had six chemotherapy treatments. She went in every three weeks, except for the time she had to postpone a treatment because she got pneumonia. Her last treatment was June 2.
They knocked her flat, making her sick, killing her hair, pushing her into menopause.
“I pride myself on being active, on eating healthy,” she says, “so it’s hard to be that person who is not healthy. It’s hard being the sick person.”
Because her immune system was so compromised, she had to stay home for days at a time, at the end of which she was climbing the walls, desperate to be around people.
Chris was there, always. For some couples, cancer becomes a wedge, a relationship-killer.
“But we love each other more than anything,” Chris says. “I just would never let anything like this get in between us. I never even thought about that. I know she had concerns…”
“...because you just never know until you’re in the midst of it,” she says.
“It was so easy to take care of you, though. You never complained, you were so positive through the whole thing.”
“I just didn’t know if this was something that would push him over the edge…”
He shakes his head.
“...but we talked a lot and I made sure I showed my appreciation to him through this,” she says.
“You really did.”
Alex had reconstructive surgery on July 2, replacing the expanders with silicone implants.
She began radiation Aug. 2. Her last treatment two weeks ago. The last PET scan? Clear of cancer.
The final thing to do is nipple reconstruction surgery. She jokes that it is going to be her Christmas present.
Now, it’s about maintaining. About being vigilant, having regular exams, learning to live with the shadow in the corner. Alex and Chris won’t let cancer define them or their future.
So, her hair’s growing longer, her energy has returned and the va-va-voom is there, like it always was.
Chris can’t help smiling. Neither can she.