Name: Kathleen Hammett
Diagnosed At Age: 36
Status: Disease Free (5 years as of September 12)
Bio: I am a 42 year old mother of 3 daughters, ages 6, 9 and 11. I have been married to my Mike for 14 years, and it has been a wild ride. After getting diagnosed with breast cancer, I began running and I now run in several ultra-marathons every year (defined as anything longer than a marathon but typically at least 31.1 miles). Before I had children I worked as a bio-statistician/
My reaction when I was first diagnosed: My first reaction was, why me? As I mulled it over though, I realized why NOT me? Given my history and my ability to overcome adversity, this would just be another hurdle that I would learn to tackle and adjust to my new normal.
I woke up in the ICU on a ventilator, 57 staples running from my chest all the way down, minus a uterus, and a long way from recovery. My baby, along with my dreams of a large family went home two weeks before I did. It took an amazing nurse, many generous blood donors, extremely supportive friends and family, and a lot of inner strength to begin healing.
This was the end of a long journey for my husband and me. Our first daughter was born blind (our Amazing Grace who can now see), our second daughter was born asleep; we were blessed with Ella in our third pregnancy, but lost another daughter on our fourth try. We were physically and mentally exhausted.
When Clara was 7 months old I decided it was time to get a physical. With a family history of breast cancer this always included a mammogram even though I was only 36.
Obviously I would not be writing this if the results had come back clean and clear. After 7 months of constant medical appointments dealing with the aftermath of a horrific birth experience, I was about to embark on a new journey and I was far too exhausted to travel down that road.
In life it is so amazing how quickly our perspective can change.
As I went through the normal battery of diagnostic testing, we were thrilled at how blessed I was to have DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). Since both of my breasts were scattered with DCIS, coming to terms with a double mastectomy proved to be very difficult for me. My breasts were how I fed and comforted my babies. Clara was only 7 months old and I had just lost my uterus, could I really stand to lose all my female parts in under a year? Would I ever feel like a woman again? Would a love of shoes be all that separated me from the boys?
How I’m feeling now: At this point I almost feel indomitable. I do not live each day wondering if my cancer will come back, I simply live each day. When I catch myself having moments of doubt or worries about a recurrence I just remind myself that I have been blessed with 5 beautiful and amazing years with my children. Although I will never describe this horrible, awful disease as a blessing, I did gain the ability to run from it.
Before cancer my breasts were huge, and although I taught group fitness and played sports, I could never run long distances due to the pressure on my chest and back. With a new physique (much smaller breasts), I am now not only running, but I have qualified for the Boston Marathon (I was even supposed to run it in 2013 but could not due to a broken foot) and run ultra marathons in my spare time.
My inspirations: My husband and my children inspire me each and every day. They are my reason for living fit and staying healthy. As an ultra runner I realize that everyone who runs 50 mile races for fun usually has a story and uses running as a coping mechanism. Running is wonderful at healing the body and the mind. It is reliable and predictable, and as I worked my way through cancer treatments it always gave me a moment of peace and calm in its simplicity. Hearing stories of the other runners and what brings them to the starting line is always inspiring and usually puts my own little list of traumas in perspective. We all have a story.
My support system: Without my husband, mother (another Breast Cancer Survivor), siblings and children, I would not have made it this far. My community has been amazing, but it all comes back to family.
I’m proud of: I am proud that I have used my diagnosis to educate women in my community about breast cancer and what steps they can take if they get diagnosed, or to just listen and help as they go through the “what if’s” of the diagnostic process. Mostly I am proud that at the end of a very long list of traumas, my husband and I have managed to not only hold our family together but to thrive as we go. He supports me through my treatments and even through all of my ultra running adventures.
I’m afraid of: My daughters one day hearing the same words that I did, “you have breast cancer”. With three daughters, it is difficult to imagine what their future will be in terms of breast cancer. I am BRCA Negative, but as soon as they give you the results they follow it with the statement, “well it’s not the BRCA gene but it is obviously genetic given your family history, we have just not identified the gene yet”. It is certainly something I lose sleep over. Some days I am afraid that I will get a recurrence. I try to remember how blessed these past five years have been and pray for another five. If I am very lucky, I will handle it with dignity and grace, and a whole lot of running.
I’ve learned: That the only day that matters is the one that you are living in. I’ve also learned that on particularly rough days, on days when I am sure I cannot possibly endure, that my track record for getting through bad days is 100% so far and that is pretty good.
My advice to new patients: If there is any way you can get your treatment at a breast center, do it…even if you have to relocate for several months. Cutting and pasting your treatment from place to place is not worth it. Working with a team of experienced professionals is the only way to go. I also remind them to believe in themselves and that no one stamped us with an expiration date. Live your life, don’t let cancer be your life or your full time job. It’s a part of your life…it does not define you.