Today, Kathy Drake is living life to the fullest, thanks to her diligence in getting an annual mammogram. In early November 2022, Kathy’s yearly mammogram at The University of Kansas Health System Great Bend Campus showed a small tumor. Less than a week later, a diagnostic ultrasound confirmed the tumor.
Just before Thanksgiving, she had a biopsy and a week after that, her primary care team, Charles Keener, MD, and Gina Westhoff, PA, confirmed her tumor was cancerous. With that difficult start to the holiday season, Kathy started looking at her treatment options.
“I had no signs or symptoms and even at my first appointment with my primary care provider after the screening mammogram, we couldn’t feel it,” Kathy says. “Without the initial mammogram and follow-up ultrasound that led to a biopsy, we wouldn’t have known about the cancer.”
Because imaging showed only a single, small tumor, Kathy planned to have a lumpectomy. However, in January, in preparation for her surgery, an MRI with contrast showed a second tumor in the same breast. This new information caused Kathy to reevaluate her plans.
“We just survive whatever is in front of us,” Kathy says. “We make all the decisions we have to make, lumpectomy or mastectomy, reconstruction or not. How bad is chemo or radiation if you have to have it?”
She chose to have a double mastectomy to reduce the risk of the cancer returning. Just a little more than 2 months after her initial mammogram, Kathy was scheduled for surgery.
A good support system
Kathy’s breast surgeon and plastic surgeon are in Wichita, which meant additional travel for surgery-related appointments. She had multiple procedures after her mastectomy for reconstruction, all of them 2 hours away in Wichita.
Despite the challenges of so much travel, Kathy received immense support from her communities in Great Bend, including her church, neighbors and even women she didn’t know well. The help she received eased some of her anxieties.
“It’s scary, but don’t panic,” she says. “Make sure you have a good support system with your family, friends and doctors.”
One of Kathy’s biggest supporters – besides her husband, Dave – along her cancer journey was her daughter, Ami. She was with Kathy at nearly all her appointments.
“She probably was as nervous and scared as I was,” Kathy says, “but it wouldn’t have been the same without her there. She was a big help, asking questions and writing it all down – things I couldn’t remember and would forget what the doctors said.”
Kathy’s other advice? If you don’t have a daughter, find a girlfriend to go to appointments with you. She says a woman can understand a little better what you’re going through. And, she says, talking to other women who have also had breast cancer is so important.
“I’ve had a couple of girlfriends with breast cancer and relied on them for information,” says Kathy. “When you talk to all these people who have been down this road, it takes away your fears. It helps so much to know what they’ve been through and that you’re not alone.”
‘Be diligent in your healthcare’
Now that Kathy has completed her treatments, she can look back over the past 11 months and recognize the strength she received from those around her. She also is vocal about women being diligent in their healthcare.
“Those annual mammograms are key,” she says. “I do self-exams and never felt anything, so be sure to keep up with self-exams and your annual mammogram.”
She’s sharing her story so more women will be aware that breast cancer could happen to them too.
“It’s important to talk about it and get it out there. Sharing stories like this helps,” Kathy says. “I certainly don’t have all the answers and there’s a lot I don’t understand. But my early detection was so important.”
If you find yourself in a similar situation, Kathy says that you can’t be afraid to ask for help.
“The prayers of my family and friends were powerful and I had never experienced that before. It was palpable and I could feel it,” she says. “After surgery, all the meals that were brought in, the visits, texts to say, ‘I’m thinking of you,’ I can’t express how important it all was. I’m so blessed for how it all turned out. I had no complications at all.”
Annual screening mammograms are recommended for all women beginning at age 40. If there is a family history of breast cancer, your physician or primary care provider will provide guidance about when to start annual screenings.
To schedule your mammogram, call The University of Kansas Health System Great Bend Campus at 620-