Life After Cancer
At age 24, Katie Hess was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage three breast cancer. She had no family history of cancer and was shocked when she heard the news. Now in remission, Katie shares, “I had a great job, an amazing boyfriend, and life was pretty much perfect. I had plans, for a career and to hopefully get married and start a family – not one of them included cancer.”
Despite her circumstances, she was able to find an inner strength and a desire to fight. Katie’s boyfriend proposed to her in the midst of her diagnosis, telling Katie that he wanted to fight with her. Katie and her fiancée spent the next year of her cancer journey planning their wedding, while she worked full-time to keep her insurance to pay for treatments – fighting cancer became her life.
Katie was treated locally by retired oncologist Eric Lester, MD, and completed radiation therapy at Lakeland Health. She received a partial mastectomy and was given minimum time to heal before she began an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy and radiation. After what seemed like a lifetime, Katie finally got the news that she was cancer free. “I celebrated and thought that I could finally get back to my normal life,” Katie recounted. “Except the more I thought about it, I wondered, what is normal anymore?”
Katie had just spent every waking moment dealing with all things cancer sharing her realization that, “the truth is, you never feel how you did before cancer.”
Katie recalls how she had to grow up a lot – both mentally and physically. Treatments put her into early menopause and she said that her body felt run down and old. She got married exactly one year from the day she started chemo and remembers watching all of her bridesmaids getting their hair done, as she simply put on a wig. While not as stressful, Katie said it wasn’t what she had pictured, or wanted.
Even after all of these years Katie said she is still dealing with a lot of the same emotions and feelings. “Things didn’t suddenly get easy once treatment was over,” said Katie. “I was starting the next part of the cancer process – the recovery.”
Part of that recovery involved wondering if her body was healthy enough to become pregnant. Katie explained that her menopause didn’t last, but she was still concerned about everything her body had gone through.
Although Katie and her husband got the go ahead from the doctor, having children didn’t come easy. Katie had two miscarriages before her three daughters were born. Now seven, four, and two, she says, “They are my true miracles, and what I live for every day.”
Katie also revealed her struggle with depression and anxiety, how she constantly wonders if her cold is more than just a cold, if her headache is more than just a headache.
“I wish that I could say that after years of being a survivor that these feelings go away but they don’t,” she said. “I’ve come to accept that this is who I am now – a little crazy, forgetful, paranoid and irrational, but I’m also more compassionate, understanding, and as hard as it is to say, stronger.”
Reflecting on her experience, Katie said she’s become part of a club she never wanted in to but she is grateful at the same time.
“You can’t go back. Life after cancer will seem alien to you, but there are many of us who are willing to go through it with you,” Katie urged. “Don’t be afraid to reach out, utilize the resources available to you and find your group of people who can make you feel better.”
If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer, are currently going through treatment, or are on your own recovery journey – you are not alone. Visit www.lakelandhealth.org/cancer for a full list of local, resources and programs available to fit your individual needs.