KANSAS CITY, Mo. — I could start with a simple declarative sentence revealing my new diagnosis, but I'm choosing a different path to tell this story. In order for you to truly understand the challenge I'm facing now, I need to take you back to what I thought was the final chapter in my breast cancer journey.
One of the happiest days of my life was on February 15, 2012, when I finished my final radiation treatment for breast cancer at Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. It was the end of eight months that included eight rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and 33 radiation treatments.
My husband, Ed, and I arrived at the hospital that day with 33 pink balloons representing the 33 radiation treatments I had received. On each balloon I attached a note with the scripture verse Philippians 4:23: “May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit." We gave some balloons to nurses and patients, and left others in patient dressing rooms to surprise and encourage strangers still undergoing treatment. We walked outside with the remaining balloons, whispered a prayer, and let go. We watched as they floated toward Heaven, grateful that God had safely brought me through the battle.
I was finally a breast cancer survivor. I said goodbye to breast cancer. I didn’t know breast cancer was not finished with me.
I've always known there is a risk of recurrence. I've read stories and interviewed women who survived two and sometimes three bouts with breast cancer. I did not want that to be my story. I only mentioned the possibility of recurrence once, and only to Ed. I vividly remember we were alone at home in the kitchen and I said, “What if it comes back?" He stopped, walked over to me, grabbed both of my hands and looked into my eyes. I could feel his love, compassion and strength pouring into me. He paused and said, "Then we'll start all over again, and we'll fight it all over again, together."
Now, seven years later, that's what we're doing.
Diagnosis and Discovery
On Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, eight years after my first breast cancer diagnosis, I received the call. The doctor said that the needle biopsy on a small lump I had felt earlier that week was positive. I had breast cancer again.
I didn't cry. I was seriously stunned. I thought after seven years of being cancer-free, the likelihood of the cancer returning was rare. I was right: recurrence is rare, but it can and did happen to me.
I was at work when I got the call. I went home and told Ed. He's my hero, and he didn't flinch.
He said, “Okay, so let's get started.”
From that moment, Ed has been with me at every medical appointment and procedure. He did the same thing in 2011. We both believe strongly that we want to turn our challenges into something positive to help other people. So we knew right away that we wanted to again share our story -- just like we did the first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So we once again recorded our thoughts and took pictures during my procedures.
In this video, Cynthia and Ed Newsome discuss her new cancer diagnosis.
I have to pause and share a story that shows you how faithful and committed my husband is to being at every appointment. One day, I found out at the last minute that Dr. Priyanka Sharma, an oncologist and researcher at the University of Kansas Cancer Center, could meet with us. But Ed was too far away to get there in time. He texted me, “OH REALLY!!! I should be there with you!" I knew his heart and I wanted him to be there too, so I just called him using FaceTime. I held up the phone and introduced him to Dr. Sharma and we started the appointment. He even asked questions and Dr. Sharma looked right into the phone and answered him. I love my husband for so many reasons -- his unfailing love is just one.
Back to my diagnosis. I soon discovered that the small lump I had felt was only the tip of the iceberg. I turned again to Saint Luke's Hospital, where I had received my treatment in 2011. My surgeon, Dr. John Shook, and my oncologist, Dr. Timothy Pluard, put me on the fast-track to a full-body evaluation.
Over several days I had a series of blood tests, MRIs, two PET scans, and some CAT scans. The results revealed two additional tumors. One is in the lymph nodes under my right arm and a second, larger mass is under my left breast in the chest wall.
Dr. Pluard told me I had metastatic breast cancer. It’s also known as stage four breast cancer, and it means the cancer has spread from my breast to other parts of my body. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, doctors still treat it as breast cancer even though the tumors are in other parts of the body. Komen also says at least 154,000 people in the United States have metastatic breast cancer. And according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF), metastatic breast cancer can occur in people 10 to 15 years after their original diagnosis, even after successful treatment. And when it does recur, it’s often missed in regular check-ups and annual mammograms.
My cancer is triple-negative, which means it was not caused by any of the three factors that commonly cause breast cancer: the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and the breast cancer gene. Right now, the cancer is isolated to the three tumors we discovered, so I'm anxious to start my treatment and kill the cancer that wants to kill me.
I’m one of those people who faithfully got my annual checkups and mammograms. But Dr. Pluard explained that the tumor under my left breast was not detectable by a mammogram, and he said I would not have felt the tumor in my lymph nodes with a self-exam. So, I can only thank God that the smaller tumor was in a place where I did feel it -- which led to the discovery of the larger tumors.
And there's more good news: the tests and scans also revealed that my organs, bones, brain and soft tissue are all cancer free! That’s a huge relief. Right now, the cancer is isolated to the three tumors we discovered, so I'm anxious to start my treatment. There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, but I’m encouraged by information from the National Cancer Institute that working with my physician on a drug treatment plan along with diet, exercise and social and emotional support will improve my quality of life and life expectancy.
We are so blessed in the Kansas City metro to have multiple options for excellent cancer care. I am forever grateful for all the doctors, nurses and caregivers, receptionists and every person at Saint Luke's Hospital who touched my life and the lives of so many people. My Saint Luke's Nurse Navigator, Vickie Thomas, is the unsung hero in my breast cancer story who became my personal friend. Thank you Saint Luke's for your love and support.
Now, I am beginning this new chapter of my life at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. My physician, Dr. Priyanka Sharma, will soon begin treating my cancer with chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Having metastatic breast cancer is new to my husband and me. We're still learning what it is, and how this is going to change our lives. I turned to my friend Barbara Unell, who is the founder and president of Back in the Swing USA, an organization that empowers women to improve and protect their health after breast cancer. When I told Barbara I have metastatic breast cancer, her response was the truth I needed to know. She told me about a woman with the same cancer who is alive and well and still working 15 years after she was diagnosed.
Ed and I are choosing to surround ourselves with positive people like Barbara and her husband Bob, my friend Ethel Davis, my news director, Carrie Hofmann, and countless friends and strangers. They have reached out to me to say they care, that they will help, and that they will do what they can to help Ed and me wage this new war with cancer.
Despite all the uncertainty, Ed and I are at peace. We trust that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will guide us and give our doctors the wisdom to make the right decisions.
I am in God's hands. It is well with my soul.
Cynthia's husband, Ed Newsome, shares his perspective:
Honestly, I never gave much thought about another diagnosis of breast cancer for Cynthia. Our thoughts were focused on loving one another, loving our families, enjoying life and doing the things that God has called us to do. Both of us are involved in work that makes the lives of other people better. Our focus will not change.
I have learned to take life in stride. By faith I “know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I don’t know what the new cancer diagnosis means for the future. Cancer is scary but we are not scared. Cancer is frightful but we are not frightened. Cancer is serious but we are not silenced. I am not angry or disappointed. I am committed and determined to be with my wife on every step of this journey.
My priority now is protecting my wife. I’ll be guarding her time and minimizing her stress. I like the idea that we are choosing to go public again with this very personal battle, because Cynthia and I believe that our story may help save the lives of many others. No, another cancer diagnosis was not in our plans, but I feel that God has a greater message that He wants to deliver through us. That is why I will continue to hold my head up, keep a smile on my face, and keep my hope and trust in God. All is well with our souls.