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.
FIRSTLY, A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE:
A BLOG GETS PERSONAL
Medford Lakes woman shares her battle with breast cancer
By Kristen Coppock, staff writer, Tracie 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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for following our journies – and there will be more to come! Breast wishes!