Written and Contributed
by Katie Drummond Bonstead:
Pete had asked me to share my story in an effort to raise awareness and to also (hopefully) help others cope.
Well – where to begin? Let me first say that this is a story I never thought I would be sharing.
For those of you who don’t know me – I am 30 years old. I am an attorney, a sister, a daughter, and a wife.
I must preface this with the disclaimer that not everyone is ready to learn about other’s stories. In dealing with this disease most everyone will be in a different place than you – diagnosis wise, treatment wise and recovery wise. I know I wasn’t ready to hear others stories until I had lived mine first.
Just know that God does have a plan. You cannot lose faith. God certainly had a plan for me; and his angels which I KNOW include my grandparents, Mike, Jon & Mavi.
My story begins 10 years ago actually. Since I can remember, I have had stomach problems. When I was 19 I was (mis)diagnosed with acid reflux disease. But it wasn’t until my gallbladder completely quit working in August 2011 that I found out I had been misdiagnosed. Once my gallbladder was taken out, I did not have one stomach related problem but I did eventually develop some digestive problems. So my doctor ordered imagining of my lower abdomen to determine why I was now having digestive problems. The imagining device was placed low enough on my abdomen that it overlapped onto my upper leg.
It was in this image that my cancer was discovered in my upper right thigh. It was removed almost immediately for pathology. I had no idea it was there. I was not symptomatic. I could not feel it. The reality of the situation is that if I had been properly diagnosed 10 years ago, I don’t know if my cancer would have been discovered in time. God has a plan.
Now about my cancer – the clinical diagnosis is called a myxoid liposarcoma. The laymen’s term is a soft tissue cancer (muscle) that consists of a malignant fatty tumor. It was located in my inner right thigh, very close to my pelvis and close to the major artery that runs across your pelvis. If it spreads through this major artery, I am told it likes to spread to your lungs and abdomen. I never knew you could even get cancer in your muscles. Because it is so rare, I was referred to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. MD Anderson has a whole Sarcoma department where surgeons, radiologists and chemo therapists only treat this type of cancer.
I must say that it was an eye opening experience to walk into a waiting room where everyone sitting there was diagnosed with a similar cancer as mine. My cancer was not as rare there and I realized I was not alone. God has a plan.
My journey to MD Anderson is also worth mentioning. I found out I had cancer on December 2, 2011. My sister was with me. When you find out you have cancer, your thought processes sort of – well – go blank. You are caught up in such a wave of emotions that you aren’t sure how you should feel. Sadness? Fear? Regret? Love? I certainly did not initially cope well, but God put people in place to assist me. It just so happened that my dad was hunting with a doctor friend of ours in Southern Illinois who he rarely sees except for our annual fish fry. This particular doctor is a plastic surgeon. What I never knew about this longtime friend is that he knows the plastic surgeons at MD Anderson. So he called them up; told them to get me in.
The next evening I was on the phone with the head of the plastic surgery department at MD Anderson scheduling my appointments. What I later found out is that “my surgeon” was not only the head of the Sarcoma Department but he was the head surgeon at MD Anderson. What is the chance that this would be the weekend that my dad would be hunting with our doctor friend and that my surgeon’s scheduled would be open to take on my case? God has a plan.
I traveled to Houston and my case was roundtabled with these surgeons, radiologists and chemo therapists of my department and it was determined that radiation and surgery would be best suited to address my case. I underwent 5 weeks of radiation, plus clinics and scans. 6 weeks after radiation was concluded, I went under a reconstructive surgery of my upper thigh where the surgeon cut out the large chunk of the muscle that originally surrounded the tumor bed and a plastic surgeon reconstructed my thigh so that I could walk again.
The pathology report that came back from my surgery indicated that not one cancer cell was found in the original tumor bed. I just went back for my first checkup and set of scans since my reconstructive leg surgery and radiation and the prognosis was great. No cancer. As I was told my scans “looked perfect.” God has a plan.
What have I learned? There is no rule book on how to cope or how to help others cope. There are hundreds of different types of cancers and even more treatment plans. Some people do not want to talk about their diagnosis or treatment. The best advice I can give is to reach out for support. You will be amazed who reaches back.
I came up with my own 10 commandments on how to help cope with this disease.
1) Keep the Faith.
2) Hug loved ones often.
3) Do not get angry. Usually what you get upset about is not worth the emotion.
4) Spend time with your friends and family. Life events are few and far between and you never know when you won’t get the chance again.
5) If you are able, enjoy good food. You only live once.
6) Let people know you appreciate their thoughts and prayers. Never take away someone’s joy. If their joy is trying to send you a positive thought or prayer, let them know.
7) When you are going through treatment, be sure to take naps. This is a queue that your body is trying to heal. Besides… sometimes naps are a welcomed escape from the situation. Naps are also great because you never know who you are going to meet in your dreams. I know I dreamt quite a bit about my grandparents and Mavi.
8) When you are going through treatment, don’t give much thought to what other patients say about their diagnosis or treatment. Your case is unique and they are not doctors and do not know what you are going through or where you are in your story. Bring earphones to treatment so that you don’t have to listen to some of the garbage people say. Cancer does not make all people smarter or more sensitive. It just gives them another topic.
9) Professionally no client, case or amount of money is worth losing your degree or certification.
10) Find humor in everything. Laugh. Smile. It’s contagious. You will be surprised to find out how many doors this will open for you professionally, personally and spiritually.
I hope this helps. God’s love is everywhere. You just have to look for it. It’s the greatest guide you will ever have in life.
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