To Mastectomy or Not to Mastectomy

My grandmothers (maternal and paternal) had breast cancer before I was even born or as I was a newborn. My great aunt died from breast cancer when I was four. My great uncle died from male breast cancer when I was in college. My mother had a lumpectomy and radiation after being diagnosed with breast cancer when I entered the working world.

My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of forty-one and faced rounds of radiation and chemo as I was a stay-at-home mom to my two young boys (now aged four and one). And now I’m over here just trying to break the cycle…

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My sister called me exactly a year ago, this time of year. “I have a lump”, she said but as the type of positive person that she is brushed it off by saying, “I’m sure it’s nothing”. My mom was in town visiting and we both were concerned right away. With our family history, how could it just be nothing?

Although we both love holidays, she has a really funny way of celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness month. On October 1, 2015 her doctors called and confirmed – yes – it was ductal carcinoma.

After talking with her frequently through her mastectomy and treatments it became very apparent to me that 1 – I needed to do anything I could to avoid this for myself and 2 – I was probably next. My super supportive husband Logan agreed immediately so I set out on my journey to a prophylactic, bilateral mastectomy.

Sitting here 10 days after the surgery, I am so excited to report that all has gone so well and the pathology report came back today showing no signs of cancer in my body tissue.

We have all followed Kristin’s amazing journey of courage, support and trials and know the hard, lumpy (pun intended!) roads that she has traveled down. One year later, she has asked me to share my story of prevention, too. You know, we have always been close despite having 11 1/2 years of age and about 7 states in between us, but this experience of breast cancer awareness and prevention have turned us into breast friends 🙂

More to come on my prevention resources, the overwhelming support that I received and the details of the surgery itself!

 

 

 

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Shhhh….

Ever since my sister recovered, she has been worried about helping others. “What if they didn’t have family?” What if no one was there to see their last chemo round?” “Did anyone even care that it was over?”

After a grueling 20 months of a twisted combination of chemotherapy, radiation, a hysterectomy and a “gentle” re-application of nipple through tattoo, my sister went through it all. After radiation, she rang the bell, signifying that her treatments were over and felt complete closure. Her husband, Bob, rewarded her with a ring to signify the end of that chapter. Yet after chemotherapy, it was silent. There were no next steps. There was no gift. There was no closure to let her know that it was all over. In fact, as the last patient of the day to get chemotherapy, the halls were dark and empty and she could hear the sound of the facility closing with no salutation or congratulations to leave her with.

After five months of weekly treatments, didn’t she deserve more?

Our idea is to give closure to those who receive chemotherapy regardless of the cancer type. Just as a boss gives recognition to their employee after hard work or a job well done, our intention is to briefly acknowledge and congratulate the patient on completing such a huge part of their journey.

More to come but we are excited about the possibilities of helping. Helping others going through cancer. Helping family members of others going through cancer. But mostly, providing closure.

Shhh…

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How my Life is Sweeter post- Mastectomy

Happy New Year!

It has been almost four months since I chose to have a preventative double mastectomy due to extensive breast cancer in my family. Often I think about how my life has been impacted by my surgery choice. And the answer is always a resounding – not at all.

Sure, I used to be able to do pull ups at the bar at Trinity Fitness. I used to be able to lift our almost two-year old without an occasional wincing and screaming “OUCH!”. But those physical pains will go away with time.

But it leads me to wonder…why wouldn’t more women choose to take this preventative action since for me it was such a cake walk?

Recently, my sister went in for additional genetic testing to see if she was NBN+ since both our mom and I came back as NBN variant. I watched her go through loopholes and trial after trial to get tested for this additional genetic mutation. She HAS breast cancer and it STILL took us weeks of negotiating with genetic counselors and MYRIAD, the test provider, to get it approved.

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More women (or men!) do not take this preventative action because insurance companies, genetic testing companies and other medical providers make it difficult to do so.

I have received more than a dozen messages from local mom friends, local moms who I have not met and even some women in different states who are in similar situations to my sister and I. Their sister (or relative) has/had breast cancer and now they want to be proactive and consider taking action.

Many of them state that they really want to do additional genetic testing, but their insurance companies denied the request. Others were told that they could not receive a genetic consultation trial because they needed to have more family members have breast cancer in their family.

Although we can’t change how the medical field operates, we can choose to support each other through choosing to take preventative medical action.

If you are one of those women whom I have been in contact with about my mastectomy, you have made life sweeter for me since surgery. You have encouraged me to continue sharing my sister & I’s story of early detection and prevention.

If you have an extensive family history of anything, life will be sweeter for you if you continue to work past hurdles to take action.

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I want to take time this morning to thank a very special and kind friend, Maris Barry.

Maris, a local photographer who owns Maris Kirs Photography and fellow Nocatee Real Housemom asked what she could do to help me along my journey. She came up with the idea of holding a FREE photoshoot to document the good in an otherwise unfortunate situation for my family.

The end result were these beautiful pictures.

Maris has inspired me to spend less time complaining and more time doing acts of kindness in our community. This is perfect timing with a controversial election coming to a close and tensions being high. It has reminded me that kindness truly trumps all.

Please consider Maris Kirs Photography for your family’s photograhy needs

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Kristin’s Preventative Hysterectomy

The Invite Had Not Gotten Lost!!!!
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Posted by Kristin Hurley on October 14, 2016 4:39 am

I woke in the recovery room Friday afternoon groggy but ecstatic to hear the news that there was no physical evidence of cancer in my uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, or cervix. Every piece will be fully biopsied and Dr. B will go over the results with us in 2 weeks at my follow-up.

Once settled in my room, I felt remarkably well. I had a catheter, leg splints to keep from blood clots, 2 IV’s, and an oxygen mask. I was able to eat a clear liquid and then even some saltines and apple sauce. I enjoyed a couple of tv shows with Bob and spoke with the kids over the phone. After that is when the real fun began! I started dozing off and when I tired to switch sides the most terrible pain hit me from my neck to my shoulder, down my side and to my waistline. I couldn’t take a breath, which really freaked me out! The nurse said it was just gas, trapped in there from the robotic surgery. I knew she was probably right! However, rewind to June 2007, after my c-section with Maggie, when the nurse was telling me the EXACT same thing but in fact I was internally bleeding.

This knowledge and memory sent me into a full and total panic attack! The nurse called the resident OB-GYN doctor who suggested blood work to double check that it was in fact gas and not bleeding. Less than an hour later, the nurse came in, logged into my account on the computer, paused, and then called someone. After a few “uh huh, uh huh, uh huhs” the nurse hung up and said, “Your hemoglobin blood counts are low, so we are taking you in for a CT Scan right now.” Most people would probably freak out, but not me! I was ecstatic! It’s not the internally bleeding that I have become so scared of, it’s the idea of no one believing me that I’m internally bleeding and just leaving me there to bleed to death that is truly petrifying. Medical answers….. that’s all I needed.

I was still in a lot of pain as they took the CT Scan, but once we were finished they gave me meds to calm me down and help me sleep. They said they would monitor me through the night and in the AM, when they took my blood counts, it showed that the bleeding had stopped and my hemoglobin levels were back up. The gas pains were terrible as well, so between the minor internal bleeding and gas pains, the 2 days I spent in the hospital were not pleasant. Around 8:30 Friday night, I was discharged and sent home to heal.

Now, while at home, my motto is “Wear Pjs all day, every day.” I am just spending the days resting, napping, reading and catching up on some TV shows. (Too bad it’s not Bachelor season, but we do have Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After to enjoy:-). I am very honored that Virtua has asked me to be in the media. Bob and I watched the ABC News Specials together at the hospital on Thursday, while our kids watched it here with my Mom and Bob’s parents. Today there is an article in the Burlington County Times. Truly, my story, is one of support. So, honestly, my story is a story about all of you. The emails, texts, phone calls, letters, cards, gifts, and food we receive are overwhelming. To not have to walk this journey is alone, is the best gift I can receive. Thank you all once again!!!Here is the correct link to the ABC News Special: http://6abc.com/health/south-jersey-breast-cancer-…

Here is the link to the Burlington County Times Article:http://www.burlingtoncountytimes.com/life-style/lo…

XOXO, Kristin

Kristin Hurley's

 

News interviews, newspaper articles, blogs…oh my!

My family and I are so overwhelmed by the support that we have received over the past year. The truth is that while we were sad and fearful when our mother was diagnosed with cancer years ago, it didn’t feel real to us because my sister and I were still young and healthy.

When my sister was diagnosed at age 41, it all became real – one of us fighting cancer at a young age and the other feeling pretty confident that she would be next.

For this reason, we have decided to team up to spread awareness about breast cancer that is not caused by the BRCA gene. There are countless variances (in addition to just good ‘ole family history) that can cause someone to get or want to prevent breast cancer.

Please follow along as we combine our journeys now on this page. Kristin will continue to document her fight with cancer on https://www.mylifeline.org/kristinhurley/updates and Meg will focus on maintaining this blog. We have changed the title of the blog from Stopping the Cycle to Bravery without BRCA. We want people to realize the importance of stopping the cycle of breast cancer specifically when the BRCA gene is not in play in their families.

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FIRSTLY, A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE:

A BLOG GETS PERSONAL

Medford Lakes woman shares her battle with breast cancer

By Kristen Coppock, staff writerTracie Van Auken/For the Burlington County Times

Kristin Hurley, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last October, at her home in Medford Lakes.

 Kristin Hurley looked out her window one morning and cried.

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Placed at the edge of her driveway was a group of rocks painted pink. Positioned in the shape of a heart, each one held a personal message that wished her well in her battle against breast cancer.

Created by Girl Scouts from her son’s class, the warm gesture released appreciative tears. 

Pink stones shaped like a heart decorate the yard at Kristin Hurley’s home in Medford Lakes. The sculpture was a surprise made by a Girl Scout troop in after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

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Diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma Oct. 1, 2015, at age 41, Hurley said an abundance of pink colors was initially stressful to see. Her diagnosis came at the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which typically turns T-shirts and many other items various shades of pink in a show of solidarity against a common enemy.

“I had to process (the diagnosis) with it totally in my face,” said Hurley.

In an effort to deal with her emotions and get a firmer handle on what was happening to her, the stay-at-home mother began typing her thoughts out in blog form. Her site (lifeline.org/kristinhurley) chronicles the ups and downs of her condition and has generated more than 13,000 unique views.

“I only post something every three to four weeks,” she said.

However, the writing process forced her to better research her medical case, she said, which helped her and her readers better understand what was happening. It also provided her husband and teenage daughter with a resource for which they could point others who had questions.

The Medford Lakes woman’s blog, seen on her computer, reaches a wide audience, and readers have offered suggestions and support.

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Given an “excellent” prognosis, Hurley opted for a double mastectomy to remove the cancer. After discovering the disease had spread to lymph nodes, she had eight removed, then underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Hurley, a wife and mother of three children, said she timed her chemotherapy for Tuesdays to afford the best chance of recovery by the weekend and to allow her to participate in family activities. The radiation, she said, proved more difficult and often left severe burns that caused extensive blistering and pain.

Since ending treatment, Hurley said, she has been deemed “cancer free” by her medical team.

Considered young for a breast cancer patient, Hurley was diagnosed after she discovered two lumps in her breast and immediately sought medical tests that later confirmed the disease.

Her proactive approach increased her chance for survival, said Hurley’s breast cancer surgeon Dr. Nicole Figueredo. “Early detection has led to an increase in survival (rates) and a decrease in mortality,” she added. “Many of the women who face this challenge overcome it and show how strong we really are.”;

Despite a schedule that includes volunteer work as a Girl Scout leader for both her daughters’ troops, teaching religious education classes and serving as president of a PTA, Hurley said she couldn’t deny the lumps she felt. Figueredo said its important for women to know their breasts and recognize any changes, despite the challenges of their busy lives.

“As women, we have a lot of burdens, not just our own health,” she said. “Women should be getting their annual mammograms. Mammograms have shown they save lives.”;

Family history and genetics play role in determining a patient’s level of risk for developing breast cancer.

In addition to her case, Hurley’s mother and both grandmothers were diagnosed with breast cancer at about age 60, and a great-aunt and great-uncle each received a diagnosis for the disease at age 80, she said. Her sister, age 31, recently opted for a preventive mastectomy, based solely on family history, in an effort to avoid the same fate.

However, genetic testing has revealed the family does not carry the BRCA1 or BRAC2 mutation known to increase the risk of breast cancer. That fact is what Hurley said she wants people to take away from her medical battle.

“You don’t need the BRCA gene to get breast cancer,” she said.

Although it started as a way to help herself and her family, Hurley and Figueredo said the blog proved helpful to other cancer patients simply by telling her story.

“No matter what she was faced with, she had a positive attitude,” said Figueredo.

According to the Virtua Voorhees surgeon, people often feel alone when diagnosed with breast cancer, but survivors and other patients “come out of the woodwork” to share their experiences and to support others.

“They’re all willing to help someone going through the same thing,” she said. “They really feel like they have a family outside the house.”;

Hurley’s blog also generated a great deal of interest from the Medford Lakes community and likely drove many people to extend to her their well wishes and offers of assistance. Readers have ranged from close confidantes and out-of-state relatives to little-known acquaintances and total strangers. Many of them have shared the blog’s links on their own social media pages and have personally reached out to Hurley.

“I get a lot of messages that (the public) can’t read. No one has said anything negative,” she added. “Everyone, especially children, go out of their way to say something or do something.”;

In her case, Hurley said, the moral support was invaluable to her treatment and helped her maintain a positive attitude. She said she was glad she reached out to people through her blog.

“Support from family, friends and the community made it go so smoothly,” she said. “The whole community has been super amazing. People want to help.”;

Despite ending treatment for breast cancer, Hurley hasn’t yet closed the book on the disease. For the next 10 years, she will be taking a drug to reduce estrogen production in an effort to avoid a recurrence. In addition, she was scheduled last week to undergo removal of her uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries as a preventive measure against uterine and ovarian cancers.

According to Figueredo, breast cancer screening should be initiated 10 years before the youngest age of a family’s cases or before age 40. Thereafter, annual mammograms should be done to provide a patient the best chance of early detection.

The surgeon said women should also be aware of resources that could assist them in paying for breast cancer screening if they are underinsured or do not have medical insurance. Some programs offer free mammograms to eligible patients.

Figueredo suggested speaking calling medical offices to inquire about resources, if in need.

Kristin’s News Interview

Meg’s News Interview

Thanks for following our journies – and there will be more to come! Breast wishes!

Getting Back to Working Out: The Struggle is Real!

One thing that people would be very surprised to hear about me is that I was dreading not being able to work out for six weeks. Dreading.

Most friends from elementary school, or even college, likely wouldn’t believe that was true. My infamous tagline from 1999 – 2015 has been, “The last time that I worked out was 8th grade gym”.

Well, that changed when I was introduced to Trinity Fitness. It came at a perfect time for my husband and I. Logan was working out at his workplace with a crew that I had never met and while that was fine at first, it became uncomfortable when he formed relationships that I was not apart of at all.

One female gym friendship, in particular, began to bothered me and we both set out to find a home gym for Logan. While scrolling through Facebook in December 2014, I found an advertisement for a future gym, a mile from our home, called Trinity Fitness.

Logan fell in love right away and actually became a trainer there within a month. He feels more physically fit but more importantly, more spiritually fit. My Facebook scrolling led him to a relationship with Christ and I am ever so grateful.

Well, I drank the Trinity water, too, and became obsessed. I began working out three days/week, eating clean and seeing the results. I felt strongly and my own relationship with Christ grew stronger, too. Our marriage, our parenting – everything is stronger because of Trinity Fitness.

Well, my surgery caused a holding pattern in my fitness routine. I knew how important this surgery was but I didn’t realize how hard it would be to not feel as physically fit.

After six weeks and one day, I headed back to my three day/week workouts and it felt amazing! Frustrating, but amazing. It is hard to go slower, lift lighter, be patient. But it feels good to be back and I don’t plan stopping anytime soon!

 

 

One Month after Mastectomy

When I think of the past month of recovery after my preventative double mastectomy, three “S’s” come to mind: support, smile and selfies.

Support: I have felt very supported in my decision for months, even a year, up to deciding to do the surgery. Of course, I always had doubts. Would it hurt? Is this the right time since we have a baby who needs to be lifted up regularly? Will I still be at risk to get breast cancer after going through all of this?

Now that a month has passed by in such a speedy way, I am so confident in my decision and the timing that I chose to have it completed. I will never have the answer to the last question but I know that I did what I could to prevent this horrible disease.

I received support in the ways I always did before the surgery and feel that I truly have the best husband, parents, siblings, in-laws, friends and neighbors.

I told my husband Logan that I felt God’s calming presence as I was wheeled back to surgery. We know that this is due to our community gym, (although it’s more than a gym!) Trinity Fitness Ponte Vedra, who had friends praying over both of us regularly.

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My parents put their lives on hold for one full month to come to Florida to be the daily caretakers for our boys, aged four and one. My mom took the baby, Griffin to sing along Co-Op preschool playdates and my dad rocked the double wagon to the park every afternoon like a champ. Those who have two young kids know the long, long days that this entails so Logan and I are truly grateful to my parents for that time of rest for me.

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Lastly, my local mom’s club, The Real Housemoms of Nocatee, had SIX full weeks of meals provided for my family. Six. We were flooded with gift cards, meals, baked goods, babysitting/cleaning help and even goodies for the boys. I know how busy my fellow housemoms are in their own daily schedules so we want to send a shout of THANK YOU! to those who have helped in my healing.

Smile:  Many of you may not know this, but four days before my mastectomy, both boys started to get extremely fussy which usually signifies illness. Seeing that the timing was terrible, I rushed them to our pediatrician, Rainbow Pediatrics.

Dr. Aurora, who is a neighbor, fellow housemom and friend broke the bad news: they were both positive for strep throat.

I was so overwhelmed by life – this was not a great time for illness! She suggested that I, too, get a strep test to rule out the need to possibly postpone my surgery should I also have the virus.

After leaving my doctor, both kids in tow, feeling emotionally and physically drained, I parked my golf cart at Publix to get the kids their prescriptions. I just started to cry. It was a lot to handle at once. Seconds later, a woman and a cameraman came up to my golf cart – “Can I interview you about a potential daycare coming to Nocatee?”

Action News Jacksonville crew was watching me meltdown in a big way. The reporter, Letisha, sat and consoled me and my children as I told her my story of why I was so overwhelmed and what I planned to do the following Monday.

Letisha and I both feel that God sent her to be in the exact place at the exact time not to get an interview about a potential daycare, but instead about breast cancer prevention despite not having the BRCA gene.

Interview will air in November!

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That night, I searched Letisha on social media and found this quote on her Twitter account:

One thing I will always love about this job. Every now and then I meet someone and it’s just meant to be. This time it was a mom in Nocatee. She shed a tear seconds after I introduced myself. I know it’s cliche but, you never know what people are going through. Be kind.

Smile – you never know what people are going through.

Selfies: This one is a little uncomfortable for me. I have always been very active on Facebook but have never really aired much into my personal life. I’d share a cute baby photo here, a travel check-in there, but something that has helped me in my mastectomy recovery is to take selfies to document my journey and strength.

It is really nice to have these selfies to look back and remember where I was on my healing journey.

This first one was taken eight days after my surgery. I was so pleasantly surprised about how little pain I felt that I was bursting at the seams: (I learned that a partial or nipple sparing mastectomy that I underwent is way less painful than the mastectomy that breast cancer patients undergo).

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Three weeks after surgery, I was getting my energy back and ready to rock some of my new Breast Cancer Awareness month gear (Go Jags!)

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One thing that occurred during the last two weeks of my recovery was a hurricane projected to literally pass right over the towns near where we live. We will continue to pray for friends who have lost material possessions but mainly have had emotionally tough journeys.

Hurricane Matthew was no joke, but fortunately our home and our neighborhoods were spared. Since I was still supposed to be resting, my family decided to head to Clearwater Beach and we were able to enjoy some special family time, including forcing my loving husband into a selfie as well (sort of!)

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Breast wishes!