People Really Do Survive Cancer!--Kelly's Story

Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Copyright © 1998, Kelly Munsell

Hi! I'm Kelly and I have a twin sister, Tricia, affectionately known as "my other half." I am a 29 year old two-time survivor of cancer. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at age 17. During that same, time my mother battled and lost her fight against breast cancer She was misdiagnosed at 42 and dead at 44.

I stayed in remission for a decade. Then, in July 1996, I just could not sleep one night. Something or someone, my guardian angel perhaps, kept urging me to do a breast exam. At age 27? How ridiculous, I thought! I'll wait until I'm 40. I did the breast exam and sure enough, I found a swelling high and deep in my right breast. I told my husband, Burr, about it later that morning. "You'd better get it checked," he advised without hesitation. I did, by three specialists. An oncologist said, "It's nothing," a gynecologist said, "It's just a normal gland," and the radiologist who read my mammogram said that it looked like "benign fibrous tissue." Luckily, he recommended a biopsy.

Burr and I wanted the results of the biopsy ASAP even if it meant getting them via telephone.

The phone rang at 5:02 p.m. Friday evening. All I remember the surgeon saying was, "It is a malignancy." Sometimes those words still echo in my mind. I felt like I was on the phone forever. "How can this be?!" I cried and screamed. "Three doctors told me it was nothing!" "Well," he replied matter-of-factly, "I didn't tell you it was ?nothing'." Then he said, "Is your husband there?" Thus beginning my second journey into the isolated world of cancer, "The Big C." Unfortunately, what many people perceive as a death sentence. But it doesn't have to be that way.

My advice? Get a second, third, and fourth opinion. If you find a breast lump, do not hesitate to get it checked. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor(s) questions And if you do chemotherapy and/or radiation, demand what you want, for instance, additional nausea medication if what you have isn't working. Something out there will help you--you just need to find it. Don't be afraid to be your own advocate!

Shortly after my diagnosis, I had a mastectomy and did chemotherapy "four-ever"-- for four grueling months, but I made it!

With our family history, Tricia's chances of getting breast cancer were 90% plus. She decided to have a subcutaneous mastectomy (see editor's note) as a preventative measure.

We have now made this our mission in life our mission in life:

Kelly: Awareness--make others aware that young women do get breast cancer and that one doctor's opinion may not be sufficient.

Tricia: Prevention--how she, a young woman with no prior history of breast cancer may have saved her own life.

Editor's Note: Prophylactic mastectomy (a.k.a. preventive mastectomy) is controversial and not always appropriate for the vast majority of women. Please be certain to seek the advice of a physician with appropriate expertise before making decisions about your own health care.

From the National Cancer Institute