By Alyce Collins
AFTER battling breast cancer, this woman hiked to the same spot she went to on the day of her diagnosis to replace the memory of fear and uncertainty with BRAVERY and JOY after being declared cancer free, posing topless to show off her mastectomy scars.
Human resources consultant, Kim Angell (37) from British Columbia, Canada, did regular self-examinations of her breasts, but in April 2016, she felt a lump in her right breast and immediately went to the doctor to get it checked.
The doctor reassured Kim that she was too young for cancer and it was likely a cyst and sent her for a routine scan, nonetheless. Despite the optimistic reassurances, Kim felt like her concerns were being shrugged off.
Kim had an ultrasound scan, a mammogram and a biopsy before being diagnosed with stage 2b invasive lobular carcinoma on May 13, 2016. The lump was removed on June 2 and was just under two inches in size, doubling in size since Kim found it as the cancer was aggressive.
On July 15, Kim began chemotherapy and completed eight rounds over 16 weeks. By the end of July, Kim was starting to lose her hair which made her feel even more vulnerable as she didn’t want to look sick. Rather than letting cancer take her hair from her, Kim decided to shave it first and even joked that she was matching with her husband, Josh (37).
After finishing chemotherapy on October 21, 2016, Kim had to start radiation on November 16. Unfortunately, in early December, an oncologist told Kim that the pathology report identified some cancer cells had been missed in the lumpectomy and they suggested she have a bilateral mastectomy to ensure that all the cancer was removed. After hoping that her battle with cancer was coming to an end, this setback pushed the end out of sight once again.
The mastectomy took place on June 15, 2017 and doctors confirmed that there was no evidence of cancer on June 29, 2017. Kim, who was always been an avid hiker, hiked to her favourite viewpoint on Maple Mountain on the day she was diagnosed as she tried to collect her thoughts. Ever since, Kim has returned to that exact point on the anniversary to reflect on how hard she fought for her life.
“I tried to do self-exams once every few months and my doctor did a breast exam eight months prior to my diagnosis and hadn’t found anything,” said Kim.
“I found the lump on April 20 in my right breast. I was scared and my mind went straight to cancer. I went to get it checked and was told I was too young and that it was likely just a cyst or fibrous tissue.
“I felt like my symptoms were being brushed off and I was made to question whether I was overreacting and making something about nothing. I naively hoped I was too young, but deep down in my gut, I knew something wasn’t right.
“After being sent for a routine ultrasound followed by a mammogram and core needle biopsy, I was given the news that I had stage 2b invasive lobular carcinoma at 34 years old.
“It felt like being hit by a tonne of bricks and everything around me just turned into a blur at that point. Despite knowing all along what it could be, you can never prepare yourself to hear those awful words: ‘you have cancer’.
“The lump was initially imaged at less than an inch, but once it was removed two weeks later it had already grown to 1.8 inches.
“In July, I began chemotherapy once every two weeks for 16 weeks, and my last treatment was in October. But then in November I had to begin my first of 28 radiation treatments.
“It was constant and relentless. When I started to lose my hair, I struggled to identify the person staring back at me in the mirror, but I knew I had to stay determined to do whatever it took to beat this thing.
“It made me feel raw and vulnerable. I dreaded the day I would lose my hair as I didn’t want to look sick. Once it began falling out, I decided that I was going to take control and shave my head before cancer had the chance to take away from me.
“As the end of treatment came into sight, I got a call in December to say that a second opinion on my pathology report revealed that some cancer cells had been missed during my lumpectomy.
“The report showed some microscopic cancer cells around the tumour that had been cut in half during surgery, leaving the other half still remaining in my breast. They couldn’t be sure how many were left so they recommended I undergo a mastectomy to ensure all the cancer was gone.”
Although it was an incredibly difficult decision for Kim to go through with a mastectomy and permanently change her body, she knew that she had come so far and done everything she could to rid her body of cancer, so a mastectomy was the next part of the process.
Kim’s mastectomy was June 15, 2017 followed by reconstructive surgeries in October 2017, March 2018 and January 2019. Now, Kim is celebrating being two years cancer free.
“The thought of losing my breasts and a part of my body that I had always known was one of the hardest things,” said Kim.
“It was one of the hardest surgeries I’ve ever been through in my life. A piece of skin, muscle and tissue was removed from my back to help reconstruct my breasts at the same time along with expanders which were put in.
“I had drains coming out of my breasts and looped under the skin in my back, causing me extreme discomfort and pain. Nearly the entire circumference of my body had been cut and it made sleeping and moving around difficult.
“Every time I step in front of the mirror and see the scars staring back at me, I am reminded of everything my body has been through. I have learned to see my scars as a sign of strength and am proud to show them off.
“When I was first diagnosed, I felt like I was the only young woman facing breast cancer in her thirties. So, I began blogging about my journey through my blog Smile Through the Fog in the hopes of reaching other young women. If I could tell other young women facing breast cancer one thing, it’s that they aren’t alone.
“I love hiking, so my husband and I hiked to the same spot we went to after I was diagnosed. When we went up there three years ago, I was so scared and uncertain of what lay ahead. This time, it was amazing to hike back up that mountain and feel so much gratitude.
“Although I continue to fight every day to survive, I am so ecstatic to celebrate two years of being cancer free.”