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To Survive Breast Cancer, Kathleen Bailey Had to Find Her Voice

Publication: The Dallas Morning News

If positivity could be bottled and sold, Kathleen Bailey would be a wealthy woman. She has spent much of her adult life lovingly caring for her ailing father and mother, her in-laws, and a cousin suffering from multiple myeloma. But even her irrepressible spirit was dampened by the results of a routine mammogram in 2016.

When a biopsy of an unusual spot on Kathleen’s left breast came back positive for cancer, she was placed under the care of cancer care specialists Dr. Ronald Kerr, a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology—Medical City Dallas, and Dr. Alison Laidley, a surgical oncologist at Texas Breast Specialists—Dallas. In September and October 2016, she underwent three lumpectomies. In each case, however, the margins always came back positive.

Additional testing revealed not one but two types of cancer: stage 1A lobular breast cancer (LBCA) infiltrating and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) — the earliest stage of cancer affecting the lining of the milk ducts. She also tested HER2-negative, estrogen receptor positive, meaning these cancerous cells were susceptible to receiving signals from estrogen that could promote their growth. In layman’s terms, Kathleen says, her two cancers were “like a spider web with a fly caught inside.”

Taking a Chance

Treatment required the removal of her left breast, but Kathleen feared that cancer would come back in the right breast. She asked for a double mastectomy instead. Her doctors discussed the pros and cons of her request to ensure she fully understood the implications. In the end, they supported her decision.

Before the surgery, however, Kathleen took an unusual step that eventually aided in her recovery. She went to a local crafts supplier, purchased some plaster mold sheets similar to those used for medical casts, and made a plaster mold of her breasts. She vowed to make additional molds as the treatment progressed so that, when it was all over, she would have a complete visual of her surgical transformation.

Surgery, Discovery, and Recovery

During her mastectomy in early December 2016, Kathleen’s doctors discovered pre-cancerous cells in her right breast, confirming her earlier fears. Kathleen’s decision to pursue a double mastectomy spared her additional surgery, as chances were good that those cells would have developed into cancer.

Kathleen says she would like other women to know what she learned through that experience — that they can and should take a more active role in their cancer treatment. “You have a voice,” she says, “and you need to ask questions and be assertive.”

Fortunately, Kathleen did not need to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. However, she still faced breast reconstruction using the DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforator) flap technique, a three-stage surgical procedure in which surgeons take skin and tissue from the abdomen to recreate the breasts.

As painful as her recovery was, Kathleen considers the entire experience the best thing she ever did. Equipped with a new determination to take better care of herself, she also made a personal commitment to “pay it forward” by helping others living with cancer.

Helping Others Face the Future

Kathleen now works out four times a week at a local gym that specializes in providing therapy for recovering cancer patients. She also works with Dr. Laidley to reassure others facing the fears of cancer surgery. She’s almost always “on call,” willing to visit any patient at any time to share her experience of survival and healing.

Kathleen also teaches patients how to make organic scar cream — something she created during her own recovery — at the Cancer Support Community, a non-profit offering free classes and other activities to cancer patients and their families. Despite this array of volunteer work, she still finds time to indulge her passion for cooking, and she and her husband Carl love to tour cross-country on their motorcycles, covering about 10,000 miles a year.

And what happened to those plaster molds of her breasts Kathleen made during her treatment? Interestingly, they’ve found a home on the wall of her plastic surgeon’s office. There they are displayed in silent testimony to the promise of recovery, showing other women facing cancer the before-and-after results of breast cancer surgery.

“I want to ease their anxiety by showing them that when it’s all over, their appearance really will not have changed very much at all,” Kathleen says. “I want them to know that light and life lay ahead, that it’s not the end of anything. It’s just the beginning of their journey.”   

For patients like Kathleen and others, Texas Oncology offers a vast array of cancer treatment options, along with highly personalized patient care. As Dr. Kerr says, “We listen to our patients, both medically and personally.” To learn more about the highly personalized treatment options available at Texas Oncology, visit www.texasoncology.com.

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