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How Optimism, Support and Expert Care Helped Kathy Through Treatment

I breastfed both my children and had mastitis twice with my first baby, so I thought perhaps the lump I discovered was a clogged duct. However, it had been over a year and a half since I stopped breastfeeding, so I wasn't sure if that was it. I was 39 at the time, and I was planning on getting my first mammogram when I turned 40, but I didn’t want to wait to get checked.

I went to Overlake Urgent Care Sammamish, and I was referred to the Overlake Breast Health Center for further testing. I met with Dr. Phantana-angkool, who ordered diagnostic imaging and a subsequent ultrasound-guided core biopsy.

The results came back, and I found out I had IDC—invasive ductal carcinoma. I was shocked and caught off guard. I’ve been strong and healthy all my life. I exercise regularly, I eat healthy. Because I had experienced lumps from mastitis that came and went during breastfeeding, I didn’t even think of cancer. I have no cancer history in my family. But, I learned that cancer has no boundaries.

Dr. Phantana-angkool guided me through every single step and explained all of the tests. I also did extensive research on my own to educate myself so that I could select a treatment that was right for me.

I started treatment immediately and underwent chemotherapy, skin-sparing mastectomy, radiation and hormone therapy. I also included naturopathic/integrative medicine, which has been helpful in bringing me back to myself faster.

Even though I had to go through it during the pandemic, it felt really safe to go to the hospital. Everyone at the Cancer Center took really good care of me.

My doctors at Overlake have been excellent, which includes my breast surgeon Dr. Phantana-angkool, my oncologist Dr. Stephen Lemon, and my radiation oncologist Dr. Brent Reece. My plastic surgeon, Dr. Bailey, who partners with Dr. Phantana-angkool on breast reconstruction, helped guide me on my options and addressed my concerns prior to making the decision. The rest of my team were also of great support to me, including the infusion nurses, nutritionist Mel Smith, physical therapist Tove Sorensen, massage therapist Elaine Lucke and social worker My-Linh Nguyen.

My-Linh provided me with hats and wigs, a list of therapists for support, and she suggested books that helped me explain my cancer to my kids. They needed to understand what mommy was going through. My daughter is nine and acknowledged a lot of changes that were going on with me. She’s able to read and understand, so she went through these books and was able to expect and anticipate certain things, which helped her cope. “How come your hair hasn’t fallen out yet, mommy?” And, when my hair did fall out, she and my son were able to make fun of it, instead of it being a scary thing. My appearance looked different but I was still the same mommy. My cancer treatment has been a life-changing event for our family, but they are doing well. 

I started chemo before the COVID-19 shutdown in March. Four women from my team at Microsoft came to support me during several chemo appointments. Fortunately, the visitor policy continued to allow one person, and my husband was always able to go with me. We have a 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, but we were able to get help from my mother and close friends, who stepped in to take care of the little ones when he and I went to appointments.

I think the most challenging thing about cancer treatment was just getting through it. When I came home from appointments, I was still a mom. I still wanted to cook when I felt up to it and I’d help with homework. And, because work was flexible, I was able to work the whole time.  

I have been a global program manager for Microsoft Office for six years. I have a great team, and they are incredibly supportive. I scheduled everything around my work. With working from home due to the pandemic, I was able to make my own schedule and work my appointments around meetings and around my kids’ schedule. 

Another aspect of my cancer journey was that it was all about learning again. I never thought I would read so many books in a year. I learned so many medical terms. From what I read and understand, if you allow yourself to learn and explore you have a lot of options.

I also learned that when you’re tired, you rest. I learned more about nutrition and self-care. I didn’t understand the term self-care until I learned about cancer. I learned how to love and live my life with this cancer. It has changed me as a person. Since October 2020, I have been in remission and cancer-free.

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