Kayla Redig celebrated as much as she could during her treatment for breast cancer but some days were harder than others. During a difficult time, a time when she felt like doing anything other than celebrating, she created a list of 100 reasons
she was thankful for her cancer diagnosis. It became a way to focus her energy on what was ahead, on the friends and family helping her every step of the way, instead of what was happening right then.
Here, she shares some of her favorite entries
from that difficult time:
“Cancer kinda sucks. Everything is harder now than when I
was first diagnosed. I’ve been caught in a pity party for a few days now and I figured the best way to get out of it was to stop being sad and start being thankful. But that’s hard because … you know what people with cancer think about all
of the time? Cancer. There’s so much more to it than you could ever imagine. Right now the only thing curing my body is also destroying it. That takes a toll but I don’t want to just sit around and watch life happening. I must continue to take
part in it all.”
“When you’re told that you have a disease that could kill you but will definitely impact the rest of your life, you realize how short and unpredictable life really is. I’m trying to take in all the lessons
that cancer has to offer me—lessons on growing up, taking care of myself and letting go of the things that hurt me. One of the biggest is finding the good in the bad, no matter how much I don’t want to. But I know it will be good for me.”
A selection from “100 Reasons I’m Thankful I Was Diagnosed with Cancer”:
Seeing the strength and love of so many of my friends and family. The outpouring of support has been amazing and it’s
really neat to see the goodness of so many people. So many have dropped everything without hesitation to be there for me and, I swear, when I am able to again I will do the same for you. You think you know people and then something happens that changes everything;
it’s then that you find out who they really are. For the most part, I am blown away by what I’m finding out.
Connecting with the Chicago Blackhawks. I always thought the boys in red were so far out of reach but I’ve
had the pleasure of interacting with them enough now for Mr. Patrick Sharp to pick me out of a sea of fans. Did you catch that? PATRICK SHARP KNOWS THAT I EXIST. It made me feel like I was 14 all over again, like having your hunky crush say hi to you in the
hallway. My face went bright red and I giggled like an idiot.
Learning to speak up for myself. No more letting everyone else run the Kayla show. Being able to vocalize what’s important to me represents huge growth on my
part. I know that I have to make myself a priority. “Growing a pair” is a process but it’s happening.
Experiencing old favorites like it’s the first time all over again. Kayaking! No one loves kayaking more than
I do. When I was told no oceans or lakes, it was a huge letdown. But with a little rule breaking, I kayaked in the Pacific a week ago and in Lake Michigan a couple days ago. Water is magic. It seduces you. A "quick kayak" easily turns into a “however
far I can go before my arms fall off” every time. The only thing that hurt more than my arms was my cheeks from smiling. I appreciate things so much more now.
The many nights I woke up yacking only to be given medicine and fed a bite or two of a rice cake by my parents. This might sound like a bad memory but how often do we have
the pleasure of falling asleep in our parents’ arms after a certain age? How often do our parents get to hold us in their arms and watch us sleep? There was something special about being cared for like a child again. And I suspect there was something
special about getting to parent and care for me in a way I have not needed in years. Maybe they couldn't take away the sick or the pain but they did take away the fear, even if just for a moment. How lucky am I to have such a wonderful family?
I have many fun memories from Theme-o but my favorites are the ones that involved other patients.
There were a lot of people who popped into my hospital room that day to see if the rumors were true, if Spiderman really was getting pumped full of spidey juice. We loved spreading smiles around the Kellogg Cancer Center. I made a lot of friends and connected
with many patients. Plus, I'm always happy to take pictures.
All of the celebrations! I loved forcing all my friends and family together to celebrate even the simplest occasion. I was desperate for fun. Never feeling alone
is how I, we, got through this. Multiple pre-op parties made the whole ordeal feel more relaxed and recovery easier because I’d gotten some fun in before. Celebrating finishing everything was great too! I loved seeing everyone karaoke and dance together.
Sometimes I'd start with a room full of strangers and everyone would be friends by the end. Great to see old and new faces and I loved dancing and laughing with you all!
Getting the phone call that my path results came back clear.
It was almost two weeks after my double mastectomy that I got the results back. Hearing that I was completely clear of cancer was just as shocking as finding out I had it. I casually told my parents the news and they were elated and I didn't really react.
About 30 minutes later, I was in a ball in my laundry room sobbing my face off for the next two hours. I had become so accustomed to that life that I just assumed that's how it would always be. I never saw a life outside of cancer. This was the first
time that I realized life wasn’t taken from me but being given to me.
TLC in the hospital. My medical team grew to be my family. It's an odd thing to miss a hospital but I truly do. The friendly faces and warm hugs from CDH
and Evanston Hospital will always feel like home to me. Both locations had people on the ground with me when I crumbled and feeding me cake when I was victorious. My mom recorded me post-surgery this time and I couldn't thank my nurse Rita enough for
all the TLC she gave me. I was out of my mind on drugs but I had no problem recognizing the way she made me feel. Have a great doctor? Did a nurse take good care of you? Thank them. They can't hear it enough.
I get to love the way I want
to. When you look death in the eye, it makes you change the way you treat others. I have always been a lover, an over-the-top at times, enthusiastic, big-time lover. I have always tried to make sure all of my relationships know their value but I put
even more into that now. Since people witnessed what I went through, I think it has made them more accepting and even inviting of this big love. I think they saw me get a second chance at life and are willing to let me live it and share it the way I want to.
Love without being told to hold back. That's a gift I cherish.
Allows others to love the way they want to. I think seeing someone you care about fight cancer helps you let your guard down a little with your own feelings too. I’m
so much closer with my family and friends now. No one is afraid to say how they feel and every interaction ends with "I love you." My friends and I have become much more affectionate. It's nice to hear, "I love you" and "Ok, one more hug!" No shame in
the love fest happening here.
Reimagine! Cancer welcomed me into another family—my Reimagine.me family! The folks in my office are amazing. It's
fun to dream dreams with others. It's even better working together to make them come true. Survivorship is a sensitive time that doesn’t get a lot of attention, which makes me want to do all I can to bring Reimagine.me’s survivorship curriculum into treatment plans. Every day is spent pouring our energies into helping patients and caregivers take their lives back from cancer. With Reimagine comes a new job title: Professional Cancer
Survivor. I’ve met many deserving of this title but none who get to write it on their tax forms. I love getting to apply life experience to my job AND incorporate everyone I love into it. They created a role for me and I'm working to own it.
Puberty 2.0. Puberty is a time when you go through crazy changes, both physical and emotional. You react in ways you can't explain. And then one day you wake up in an unrecognizable body. Most of us cringe at the memories of puberty
and most would never want to do it again. Cancer has a lot of similarities. Chemo screwed with my hormones and Tamoxifen has kept it up. My body has been altered. I've been hit with emotions that left me feeling out of control. In a month, my bandages
will be removed and I'll have another new body to figure out. But this time around I'm actually excited. I became so detached from my physical self over the past year in an effort to cope. But now I have a whole new body to get to know/embrace and
I'm actually looking forward to doing it. It happened so awkwardly the first time. I'm stoked to embark on an own-your-bod do-over. It's an important part to being a strong woman and healthy human. Fingers crossed for a more graceful transformation
this time around.
I can help more people now. My heart breaks when I get a text saying, "My friend was just diagnosed with cancer," because I have an idea of what's in store but I love when the next text asks if they can give out
my number for advice. PLEASE GIVE THEM MY NUMBER! PLEASE ASK FOR WAYS TO HELP! Other cancer survivors I meet are little branches of support I cling to. What was the point of fighting if I can't also help other patients or caregivers? Cancer becomes a
gift when I have the opportunity to support others. I've racked my pea brain for ways I could directly work to cure cancer but I'm not laboratory material; I am friend material. Cancer peeps are my peeps. I'm in the club for life and happy to
contribute however I'm able.
I've always said my dream job would be "Professional Friend." If I can be a source of strength or motivation for others, that's great. More than that, I hope I can be a voice of comfort and
safety to those who hear me. Half of friendship is helping someone feel less alone. Maybe if people can relate to my cancer journey, to drowning in stress and emotions, or to not being able to recognize their reflection, they'll feel a little bit of hope.
Sometimes strength comes from knowing even one person out there gets it.
Happy returns. I'm really happy out in California. I feel a strong sense of purpose and thoroughly enjoy my surroundings. It would be easy to stay out
here and keep moving in a new direction but even when you're cancer free, you're not free from cancer. I will always have scans and appointments in my future. My medical team happens to consist of a bunch of all-stars that I never plan on leaving.
So, even though I love my sunny skies and ocean, I'm thankful to be forever tied to the Chicago-land. I like knowing that no matter where life takes me, I’ll always have one place as a constant. Luckily for me it happens to be home to some of the
greatest people I've ever known. I'll keep coming back to you guys for as long as you'll let me.
New people. Lovely people were a part of my life before cancer and would have continued to be without it, but, that being
said, I'm not sure that I would have had the privilege of sneaking onto the Skinner family's radar without it. I don't know that I would have spent a week in Nicaragua and met my favorite Caitie who introduced me to roommates that I know will
be lifelong friends. Given the option I wouldn't choose life as a cancer patient but I definitely would never change it. Some people can make anything seem worthwhile.
I'm thankful cancer happened because it provided me with opportunities
to grow and better myself and it gave me a fresh start on life. The world is more beautiful and everyone is precious. Second chances are a luxury. I have a better understanding of what I almost lost and I'm not going to waste this gift.
A stroke, which is also sometimes referred to as a "brain attack," occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. If the brain does not receive a continuous supply of blood, brain cells begin to die within seconds. That's why
time is of the essence when it comes to the treatment of a stroke. Unfortunately, perhaps more than one-third of people having a stroke will not call 911 to access what could be lifesaving treatment.
Patient Maureen Pekosh discusses how receiving
treatment within two hours of her stroke and the collaborative efforts of the NorthShore Neurological Institute's Acute Stroke Team made her remarkable recovery possible.
Join us on Saturday, November 15th from 10-12 p.m. for a free morning
event--Prevention and Treatment of Stroke. Neurologists and neurosurgeons from NorthShore and the Mayo Clinic will provide attendees with information on the latest innovations in advanced diagnosis and treatment. For more information and to register
to attend click here.
Don't ignore the signs of a stroke. Always remember to act FAST:
Arm and/or leg weakness or numbness Speech or language difficulty Timing, or get medical attention immediately
Catherine Pesce, MD, Surgical Oncology, discovered her passion for surgery as a pre-med major in college. It was during her second year as
a surgical resident, sadly after her mother died of colon cancer, that she knew where her heart would take her: surgical oncology.
Here, she tells us why she was drawn to specializing in breast cancer and describes the personal
impact her patients have on her:
(Click on Dr. Pesce's image to listen to her interview on NorthShore Health & Wellness.)
When did your interest in medicine develop? In school, math and science always came easiest to me. So, as a student at Duke University, I took a chance and enrolled in pre-med. My sophomore year, Duke offered a program for pre-med students that gave them the opportunity to shadow any kind
of physician, so, randomly, I chose cardiothoracic surgery. What an opportunity to watch heart surgery every Friday!
After ten minutes in the operating room, I was hooked. That was in that moment that I absolutely fell in
love with surgery. I just couldn’t get over the fact that surgeries like that happen every day, and I knew that my passion for surgery would only grow over time.
What led you to surgical oncology, specifically breast
cancer? During my general surgery residency, I was exposed to every surgical specialty in order to figure out what felt “right” for me as a future surgeon. But it was during my second year in residency that my mother died of colon
cancer; and I knew from that point on, my heart was in oncology.
As I was exposed to the many different operations we completed for various types of cancer, I was naturally drawn to breast cancer patients. As a woman, I felt an innate
ability to relate to other women. More than anything, however, I felt so rewarded by the huge impact I could have on a breast cancer patient’s life. When breast cancer is caught early, it’s easily treatable and regularly curable. There is nothing
more rewarding than being involved in that process. Having a patient beat the disease and move on with her life, which, unfortunately, is not always the case with other types of cancers, is truly what brings me the most joy as a physician.
is the biggest challenge of working in surgical oncology? Unfortunately, in my line of work I have to share bad news nearly every day. While no woman wants to hear she has breast cancer, I make it my priority to comfort, encourage and clearly
communicate our plan to fight the disease so we can work together.
What do you find most inspiring about your patients? I have been blown away by the grace and humility patients exude during their cancer
treatment. More than once, I’ve actually had a patient say, “I’m glad this happened. It has made me re-evaluate my life; realize what’s important, how loved I am and how important it is to take care of myself.” It brings me to
tears witnessing such strength and dignity.
What’s new now that many women might not know as far as treatment and surgery for breast cancer? I am most excited about a new surgical procedure we have recently
adopted at NorthShore to remove breast tumors. When a cancer is discovered from a patient’s mammogram and cannot be felt with the human hand, traditionally, a wire is placed into the breast by a radiologist and then, in the operating room, the wire is
used by the surgeon to guide where the tumor to be excised is located in the breast. The wire method has many disadvantages, including patient satisfaction; the possibility of wire displacement; long procedure times on the day of surgery; as well as wire inaccuracy
that sometimes requires a surgeon perform multiple surgeries in order to properly remove the tumor.
Recently, we have begun using radioactive seeds to locate cancers instead of wires. The seeds are implanted into the breast cancer
with no radioactivity risk to the patient. The seeds can be inserted by the radiologist up to five days before surgery, which eliminates the logistical challenges between the radiology department and operating room schedules.
operating room, the surgeon uses a handheld gamma probe to guide excision of the tumor and seed in an easier, more precise manner. Already, prospective clinical trials have shown a decrease in the need for multiple operations compared to the wire localization
method. In addition, no other hospital in the state of Illinois currently offers the use of radioactive seeds. NorthShore is a pioneer and standout in the use of this advanced technological surgical technique.
What makes the
NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center unique? The treatment of breast cancer requires a multidisciplinary approach, and the Kellogg Cancer Center has a system in place to accomplish exactly that. We can collaboratively walk each patient step-by-step
through the process. From a patient’s first abnormal mammogram and biopsy to surgery, consultations with medical oncology, radiation oncology and survivorship, the Kellogg Cancer Center has an experienced, collaborative team of specialists who provides
a comprehensive and compassionate approach to breast cancer treatment for every patient.
What advice would you give women newly diagnosed with breast cancer? I want newly diagnosed women to know that they are
not alone. While this journey will have its ups and downs, they have a team of doctors who are there for them every step of the way.
D is a hot topic, both in the news and often in the examination room. So what’s the deal with vitamin D? Vitamin D is not truly a vitamin but a hormone that’s created by cells when skin is exposed to sunlight. It can help lower one’s
risk of heart disease and cancer and promotes healthy bone growth. Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of Americans are not only running low on this important vitamin but might even be deficient.
As the days get shorter and we march ever closer to
another Chicago-area winter, Curtis Mann, MD, Family Medicine, shares four good reasons to check your vitamin D levels and four ways to improve
(Click on the image to listen to Dr. Mann discusss the importance of vitamin D on NorthShore Health & Wellness.)
Why Is It Important?
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. If there
is a deficiency of vitamin D and thus also a deficiency of calcium, the body will take calcium from its bones, weakening them and leaving them vulnerable to fractures. For kids and teens, it’s vital to bone growth and strength. In adults, vitamin D can
help prevent osteomalacia, osteoporosis, bone pain and muscle weakness.
Vitamin D improves energy level and mood. Vitamin D is a key component in brain development. Deficiencies have been linked to low energy and depressive symptoms.
It can also help combat the symptoms of seasonal affect disorder (S.A.D.).
Vitamin D could improve your health now and later. In studies, vitamin D has been shown to boost the immune system, leaving it in better shape to fight
off infections. Studies have also found a positive correlation between sufficient vitamin D levels and lower incidences of cancer—colon, breast, prostate—and heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and potentially
Vitamin D may improve athletic performance. A recent study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal concluded that low levels of vitamin D compromise fitness and energy levels. Athletes
with higher levels of vitamin D were shown to perform at a higher level.
How to Improve Levels:
Have you had your vitamin D levels
UPDATE 10/21/2014: The CDC issues new guidelines concerning safety protocols and personal safety equipment for U.S. healthcare workers treating patients with Ebola. New guidelines can be read in full on the CDC website here.
UPDATE 10/17/2014: The Illinois Department of Public Health has set up a 24-hour hotline to answer questions about Ebola. The number is 800-889-3931.
10/15/2014: After two recent secondary infections of healthcare workers in Dallas, NorthShore is taking further action to ensure the safety of our valued hospital staff, patients and visitors, including:
There have been no cases of Ebola in Illinois. For the latest information on
Ebola in the US and West Africa, please visit the CDC website here.
Becky Smith, MD, Chief Hospital Epidemiologist and attending in Infectious Diseases at NorthShore,
explains how we have prepared for high risk infections like Ebola in our hospital emergency departments and medical group offices in order to minimize the risk of the spread of the disease to our patients and staff:After recording the patient’s
name and date of birth, there are two important questions that must be asked prior to suspecting Ebola:
If you can answer “no” to either question, there is no reason to believe you have Ebola. You can be evaluated by your doctor in the usual manner because you do not have Ebola.In the unlikely event that
a patient in the Chicago area answers “yes” to both questions, NorthShore already has plans in place to handle this high-risk infection:
With the help of NorthShore’s Infection Control department, our community is working diligently to prepare for any suspected case of Ebola or other high-risk infectious disease,
and prevent its spread.
For David Roberts, MD, Pediatric Orthopaedics at NorthShore, helping people was always the goal on the horizon,
which is what ultimately brought him to medicine. Once there, it was the challenge and the enjoyment of treating children that brought him to pediatric orthopaedics.
Here, he explains the ins and outs of his unique specialty
and how his experience as a father has informed the way he treats his patients and their parents:
What first attracted to you medicine? Was there something that inspired you to go
into the field? I chose a career in medicine because I wanted to help people. There wasn’t one specific moment of realization; it was always what I wanted to do with my life. Why did you decide to pursue pediatric orthopaedics as a specialty? I decided to become a pediatric orthopaedist during the middle of my orthopaedic surgery residency.
During my training, I enjoyed all different areas of orthopaedics so it was hard to pick just one area! Pediatric orthopaedics is unique in that you take care of a variety of conditions affecting all areas of the body, from fractures and congenital
anomalies, to scoliosis and spine conditions. It also covers a wide age range, from newborns to young adults. The diverse nature of pediatric orthopaedics is challenging but that’s also what I enjoy most
about it. And, of course, kids are fun.
What do you like most about your job? Seeing my patients get better. Often my patients are in pain or recovering from an injury when we first meet. Seeing them recover and get back to normal, being a part of that, is what I like best about my practice.
What do you find most challenging? Encountering overuse injuries in young athletes is difficult. Young kids are increasingly involved
in sports at "elite" levels, playing harder and longer than ever before. Overuse inevitably can lead to chronic and recurrent injuries of various types. Generally, the cure is simple—rest—but these
are some of the hardest conditions to treat given the pressure from coaches, teammates, parents and even the children themselves. Fortunately with time, rest and realistic expectations, these conditions typically
resolve and permit the child to fully return to activities.
What do you think is an essential skill of a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon? You have to really enjoy working with
children. Treating children is very different from treating adults. Children of different ages require different approaches at interview and examination, which represents the "art" of medicine. To be truly good at it this, you really have to like working with kids, and this is what I like most about my job.
How is treating orthopaedic cases in children different
from adults? Kids are not just little adults. From an orthopaedic perspective, treatment of children's conditions can
be drastically different than in adults, and not just because we have more cast colors to choose from.
Unlike adults, children's bones are still growing, which means they require special respect and consideration during treatment
for orthopaedic conditions. For example, fractures that typically require surgery for an adult may be treated without surgery in a child because of the ability to correct bone alignment over time with growth. Other injuries can potentially affect growth and require close monitoring over time for years after injury. Very young children also may require different treatment for
the same type of injury in an adult because a child may be too young to follow treatment instructions.
Within pediatric orthopaedics, you specialize in scoliosis. What inspired this interest? I specialized in scoliosis because of the positive impact surgery for this condition has on a patient's life. For many patients with severe scoliosis, the condition is more than just a curvature
of the spine. Severe curves negatively affects self-esteem and body image, which are already vulnerable during the teenage years even for those without scoliosis. After
surgery for scoliosis, these patients literally and figuratively stand taller and straighter. It can make a difference to the rest of their lives.
What are some of the biggest influences
on the way you treat your patients? My own experience as a parent has really informed my practice. Having a child gives you practical experience working with children but also the perspective of
a parent. I believe it is my duty to care for your child as I would my own.
There are many health benefits of a vegetarian diet, from lowering one’s risk of heart disease and some cancers to weight loss and weight maintenance. Whether you're already a full-time vegetarian or thinking about making a switch on a part-time
or permanent basis, it’s important to focus on whole, unprocessed foods and ensure you are getting your recommended daily intake of protein.
In our latest infographic, we highlight the health benefits of a vegetarian diet and assemble a list of
the best vegetarian-friendly protein options. Click the image below for our full vegetarian infographic.
The months of training have not been in vain because you’ve crossed the finish line. Now what? Carrie
Jaworksi, MD, Director of Primary Care Sports Medicine at NorthShore, offers her insight on what to expect after the race and how to recover adequately to ensure that you are ready to race again another day:
Immediately After the Race:
Once you cross that finish line there are a handful of things that you'll need to do to help your body recover. Eat something! It’s important to replenish the energy stores you depleted during the race. Initially, it’s best to start with a
sports drink and food that is easy to digest. If you can’t tolerate sports drinks, then take bananas, yogurt and pretzels to the finish line instead. Gradually work up to a high-carbohydrate post-race dinner to further assist you in replenishing
your energy stores.
Taking a cold bath and icing your muscles is recommended to help prevent muscle soreness but don’t do that immediately. It is more important to keep moving in that first 30 to 60 minutes. You'll be tired but try to resist
the urge to sit; instead, take a long walk back to your hotel or car. Your body will thank you for it later.
The Next Day: You ran for a long time and chances are you are you'll wake up sore the next day. To help ease your muscle
pain, plan ahead and schedule a massage for the days following the race. It will certainly help to alleviate your soreness and speed your recovery. Plan on being sore for a few days. Take it easy while you are recovering.
You may feel down after the race. Think about it: You’ve been training for this event, both physically and mentally for months, and now it’s over. The early recovery period will likely be the most difficult transition because you won’t be
running and will have more time to reflect on your experience. There are several ways you can combat this: 1) Plan to meet up with your running friends the Saturday after the race to discusses personal experiences with the race. 2) Combit to a new goal whether
it's another race or even just to keep up with a regular running routine once you recover. 3) Splurge on a treat for yourself, from a new pair of running shoes to that racing watch you’ve been eyeing. Whatever you do, enjoy your downtime and get
some much-needed rest.
Preparing for the Next Race: How long should you rest before training for the next race? While your break time depends on your own level of experience with distance running, it’s recommended
that you give your body at least one day off per mile before running your next distance race. This means the earliest you should race again after a marathon is almost a month. Everyone should plan on a reverse taper over the first three to four weeks post-marathon.
The first week post-marathon should be mainly rest for three days, with some gentle jogging and cross training to round out the end of the week. By the weekend, most of your muscle soreness should be gone, so a longer distance may be reasonable. Remember to
go slow and keep it to an hour at most.
After the first week post-marathon, you can begin to build more mileage based on your level of experience. Be sure to keep some cross-training days on your schedule to keep your body strong and injury-free.
Any persisting soreness or undue fatigue may be your body’s way of telling you it needs more time to recover. Be sure to listen to your body and adjust your training, or see your physician as needed.
How did you feel after the race? What
tips would offer to others?
Asthma is one of the most common chronic disorders in children, and, for unknown reasons, is on the rise.
Asthma is a reversible lung disease that inflames and narrows airways, causing chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. While there is no cure for asthma, with modern knowledge and proper treatment, you and your child can take an
active role in managing this disease. If diagnosed, your child can live an active life and sleep through the night without ever experiencing asthma symptoms.
Leslie Noble, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, discusses risk factors for and signs of pediatric
What are the risk factors for developing childhood asthma?
What are common triggers that can cause a child with asthma to have “flare-ups”
or asthma “attacks”?
How can you tell if your child has asthma?
Symptoms are not the same for every child and symptoms may even vary from one attack to another in the same child, so diagnosis can be difficult. Here are common symptoms to watch out for and discuss with your child’s pediatrician:
If your child has prolonged experience with any of these symptoms, take them to their doctor immediately
Have questions about pediatric asthma or any other pediatric concern? Join NorthShore's new online community, The Parent 'Hood, to connect with other new and expecting parents, as well as our expert
physicians. Find support, ask questions and share your stories. Click The Parent 'Hood to start now!
Cancer runs in her family but at only 24, Kayla Redig’s family and doctors weren’t
ready to believe that cancer could be responsible for her sleepless nights, exhaustion and days of just “feeling off.” Kayla, however, knew there was something wrong. After finding a lump in her breast, she pushed for further testing. When the
diagnosis came back as breast cancer, she was upset but not surprised.
From the beginning, Kayla told her family that she didn’t want to hate the chemo treatments that would be responsible for saving her life, so she decided to celebrate
them instead. For Kayla and her friends and family, chemo became Theme-o, themed parties and celebrations surrounding each treatment. Fittingly, superheroes came first, followed by a prom-themed chemo session and even a Blackhawks-themed parade on the way
to her final treatment. Everyone dressed up and everyone celebrated.
Here, Kayla tells us why she found it so important to celebrate during breast cancer treatment and how the love she felt during treatment gave her the strength to fight cancer
and embrace a new direction in life:
Where did your journey to diagnosis begin? Cancer runs in my family. A year before I was diagnosed, I had genetic testing done and found out I had the BRCA 2 gene. So I knew I had a genetic
disposition and a family history of it but I never gave it much thought. A few weeks before my diagnosis, I was always complaining about how tired I felt. My friends noticed how “off” I was and thought I was depressed. I wasn’t sleeping through
the night because I had intense night sweats; I figured that my lack of sleep was to blame for my tiredness. About two weeks after that, I found a lump in my left breast.
You were only 24 when you sought out a doctor’s advice. What
were you being told by family, friends and doctors before you received your diagnosis?When I found the lump I called my mom and two of my friends but no one was worried. One even called me dramatic and told me to go to sleep. The more friends
I told the more I heard, “Get it checked out but I’m sure it’s nothing.”
When I first saw my gynecologist she was hesitant to prescribe further testing because of my age but decided to move forward because of my family
history. When I had the ultrasound done, they were able to rule out a cyst but, again, they hesitated before doing a mammogram because of my age. About a minute into my mammogram the tech said, “You need to see one of our breast surgeons immediately.”
First thing the next morning, I was with Dr. Katherine Yao having a biopsy. She was the first person who didn’t
shuffle me along. Instead, she said, “I’ll be honest with you—this looks and feels a lot like cancer to me.”
What went through your head when you were told it was breast cancer after all?If you’re in touch with your body, I think you just know when something is wrong. So that combined with how off I’d
been feeling … I can’t really say I was surprised. Tears fell immediately but I wasn’t surprised. I remember being driven to where my parents were and talking to Dr.Yao on the phone, hearing more information and what to expect. When I finally
got to my parents, I burst into tears all over again. It wasn’t until I heard my mom say that they were going to move back to Illinois right away that the reality of the situation really hit me. You have to move across the country for me? Whoa. And seeing
my father break down in tears … I started seeing the impact my health was having on others and all I could think about was the damage this disease was causing.
But you wanted to try to keep positive, so where did the idea for Theme-o
come from? After I reached the halfway point with chemo, my health really started to deteriorate. My body was worn out. I was an emotional mess and my spirit was in a bad place. From day one, I had said that I never wanted to hate chemo because
chemo was my partner in the fight. But suddenly I was dreading each treatment and I wanted to stop going. I wanted to stop fighting. With what little energy I had left, I realized I had two choices: Give up or make a drastic change.
Up until then,
all of my treatments had involved at least six friends or family members spending time with me but that was just talking. I decided I needed to make my treatments into parties and, like all good parties, they had to have themes. Chemo became Theme-o. It was
during the darkest time in my life that Theme-o was born.
How did you decide on themes?I shared the idea with my friends and family and told them to start throwing themes at me. We formed a solid list from that. My father
insisted that “Superheroes” be the first theme because he had seen a Superman costume with built-in muscles and wanted to wear it. Before each treatment, we would have the next theme decided.
What were the reactions from people
at your appointments?When we showed up at the hospital dressed as superheroes everyone was amused but also quite confused. There were many “okay … why?” looks thrown our way before we explained the situation. A lot of people
poked their heads in my room because they had to see for themselves. We took pictures with other patients; it was fun to see them light up when they saw us. Once people heard what we were doing, the next question was always: “What are you wearing next
It was amazing to see the community that formed around Theme-o. My whole school participated, many folks at the hospital and friends and family from all over the world dressed up to show their support. I don’t think many people
look forward to chemo but I sure grew to. We had a lot of fun with it!
you most about the entire journey, from diagnosis and now to recovery?The whole experience was a lesson of the power of love. It’s amazing what people can accomplish when we all work together and are fueled by love. From my family to complete
strangers, I had everyone rallying alongside me. This has been the most challenging path I’ve ever found myself on but I was able to see it through because of all of the love I was given. I never felt like I was doing it alone. The beautiful thing about
the strength of love is it shows no sign of running out. I am still fueled by love every day.
What did you find most challenging about the experience?The most challenging thing for me was how my family and others I love were/are
still affected by this. I hated seeing them suffer because of my suffering. I hate thinking of all the tears that were shed on my behalf. A lot of lives were changed because of this.
What advice would you give to other women facing
a breast cancer diagnosis?Find ways to celebrate yourself. Your body is being dragged through the gutter and will undergo a ton of changes in a very short period of time. I created a “Pretty Committee” that was in charge of making
sure I still felt beautiful and feminine throughout. Get a makeover, take a Look Good, Feel Better class, buy something sparkly—you’re still beautiful and you’re still you. Little earrings and cute pajama bottoms can go a long way.
Along with celebrating you, celebrate everything else too. Every little benchmark you hit or appointment you get through is worth celebrating. We had a Christmas in July party to celebrate finishing my first round of chemo and a big dinner at the halfway
point. I had a pre-op party and a post-radiation blow out. No matter how small or silly it may seem, celebrate it! Make a big deal out of every moment you get through. People will be happy to join you. If you can’t find joy, create it.
next? What’s happening now? What do you hope to achieve?I just had my final reconstruction surgery at the end of September and it feels amazing knowing I don’t have more surgeries looming. Before surgery I took a new job with a company
based in Los Angeles called Reimagine and am so excited to resume work with them once I have recovered. Reimagine offers an evidence-based, online live class that helps patients and caregivers take
their lives back from cancer. They have built an entire community of support to help people thrive in the face of adversity. I knew early on that I wanted to surround myself with other patients and survivors and change the experience of cancer for every life
it touches. It’s incredible to have found others who wake up every morning wanting to do the same. I’m very blessed to have a career that is fueled not only by life experience but also love. Every bit of love I’m given I try to pour back
into the community of survivors, fighters and caregivers.
For more information on Reimagine, click here.