Using My Illness to Change the Future
“It’s definitely cancer” is what I heard on the second day of my summer vacation in July 1995. I was 34 years old and had found a lump under my right breast. In my early 20s, I remember feeling good about checking the box to be an organ donor on my driver’s license. It felt noble to think my organs could benefit someone else after I had no need of them. Now I had cancer and nobody wanted my organs nor my blood. My body was worthless…trash.
I chose a lumpectomy, radiation, and hormone therapy. After my treatments, my life was cancer-free until July 2008 when I found out my breast cancer had metastasized to my bones. That was the same year Dr. Susan Love started Army of Women. I heard about Army of Women on television and was somewhat leery yet interested. Could I really be a part of possibly finding the cure for breast cancer by providing my once-useless blood, my DNA and answering questions about my family history? It seemed like a miracle. All of a sudden my body was valuable and it was valuable while I was alive!
When I heard about the KRAS-variant gene study through the Army of Women that was being conducted by Dr. Joanne Weidhaas, I thought, “Of course I would send them my DNA!” I had a few questions while waiting for my results and emailed Dr. Weidhaas. She replied quickly with kindness and respect surrounding her words and signed her replies simply, “Joanne”. I was impressed with this woman who was answering my questions and decided to look at what Joanne did at Mirakind. I was amazed to read about her education, work history and that she was a founder of MiraKind. And she was answering my emails!
We set up a time for her to call me with my KRAS-variant gene results. I received and read the results a few hours before I talked with Joanne. As I read that I was “POSITIVE” (yup, it was in all caps) with the KRAS-variant gene, I could feel tears welling up in my eyes and a slight quiver in my chin. Why was I emotional about this result?
After thinking about it for a while, I realized that in the back of my mind I had been blaming myself for getting cancer. My diet could have been better. I could have exercised more than I did. I even wondered if the chemicals my Dad used on our farm had been the cause. Now I knew it was simply a genetic mutation. An enormous sense of relief was causing my emotional response!
More options were available to me now, such as what type of treatments would be effective for someone with the KRAS-variant gene. My oncologist could use information about which treatments are effective for KRAS-variant patients to make decisions about my treatment. I didn’t have to be the guinea pig anymore! In the past, I dreaded trying a new drug. Not only could it be ineffective, but also the side effects could also be worse than the cancer. Knowing the next drug I take will definitely fight my cancer fills me with courage to keep trying.
Dr. Joanne Weidhaas called me to talk about the results. I shared with her my reaction to being POSITIVE for the KRAS-variant gene. She assured me it was how others who also had it were feeling too. Joanne and I shared a few stories about how we got where we are today. I feel blessed beyond belief to have Joanne on my side. Joanne is brilliant and educated. She’s experienced and yet still learning more to move closer to better treatment and a cure. Joanne’s energy level puts Martha Stewart to shame. With all she’s doing, she also has a family with small children. I don’t think this woman sleeps! And yet, she kept thanking me for helping her and telling me I’m generous.
Joanne hasn’t been on this side of cancer and so there’s no way she could understand how grateful I am for her generosity of her knowledge, her time and how her passion to find answers helps me immensely. I truly believe she could be the one to find the cure. I know I’m not the only one who will be cheering her on. I never would have believed that having Stage IV breast cancer would be so valuable. Because of physicians and scientists like Joanne, this sick body now has the power to change the future.