Hard-fought battle produces a ‘Beautiful Warrior’Kathy Miller had three children in diapers. Her firstborn was diagnosed with autism. Her second suffered under-development of her lower extremities. And her six-month-old son was to be diagnosed with severe food allergies.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
Kathy Miller had three children in diapers.
Her firstborn, Jake, was non-verbal and had been diagnosed with autism.
Her second, Elle, had suffered under-development of her lower extremities and was in therapy.
And her six-month-old son Ty was shortly to be diagnosed with severe food allergies, necessitating a diet of rice milk, fresh fruit and vegetables and little else.
So the Woodbury mom’s reaction, when she felt a sizeable lump in her breast in the shower one day in the late summer of 2005, was perhaps understandable.
“I remember being in the shower, which didn’t happen often back then; I was lucky to have one at all,” recalled Miller.
“I remember noticing — it wasn’t so much finding it because the lump was huge right away — it because it noticeably changed the shape of the breast.
“I remember that first initial fright feeling and I remember thinking, ‘I really don’t have time to deal with this. I have a six-month-old, I have a two-year-old that is having trouble walking and talking and I have a three-year-old who is not talking — and everyone is still in diapers…’
“I thought, ‘I’m not even going to go there. I’ve just turned 34; there’s no history of it in my family; I nursed my kids; I’ve led a healthy life.’ I just blew it off.”
Miller, who lives on Landau Drive in Woodbury with her husband Garry and their three children, was due to be featured in an edition of Reader’s Digest as one of three “Beautiful Warriors” selected from a national competition sponsored by Ford to recognize cancer survivors.
Nominated by her mother, Rose DuHoux, it’s been a long path for Miller from that initial heart-stopping moment in the shower to the New York photo shoot in September this year that was her prize in the Beautiful Warriors contest.
It’s a path that would have defeated many, and one that certainly isn’t over for Miller and her family.
It wasn’t until almost two months after that initial shower episode that Miller was forced to acknowledge that the lump in her breast might not be mastitis, the diagnosis she had convinced herself to believe.
During an appointment with her obstetrician/gynecologist to discuss a planned hysterectomy, Miller happened to mention the lump in her breast.
The physician’s reaction was not encouraging. Telling Miller he did not like the look of the lump, he booked her in for a mammogram and ultrasound at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
Moment of truth
On Oct. 7, 2005, Miller was given the official diagnosis: It was cancer in her left breast. Not only was it stage three cancer (there are five stages), but it had spread to Miller’s lymph nodes and had tentacles spreading out.
It took only a moment for Miller to decide what she wanted to do.
“My feeling was that I was done with having children,” she said. “My breasts were never a big thing to me — literally. I was athletic and they always more got in the way to me…
“Even though [the diagnosis] was only a day old, I knew I didn’t want to go through this again.”
So she elected for the double mastectomy. Sixteen long, grueling months of chemotherapy followed and the six weeks of radiation treatment tested every ounce of Miller’s resolve.
She talks of the “creepiness” of losing her eyebrows, taking funny movies to watch while attending chemotherapy treatment, greeting the doctors and nurses by name as she came to know everyone in the oncology department at Regions over those 16 months. She also speaks of the emotional pain she felt at not being able to hold her six-month-old son during her six-week recovery from the mastectomy.
And throughout it all, although life had seemed to stop at times for Miller, she knew it had stopped for no one else, and so children’s birthdays happened, homework was completed and chores were done around the house.
“I still washed my hair, even though I didn’t have any,” she recalled, laughing. “I even used conditioner! I was like, ‘I want to use my products.’
“I still had to do these normal things because that is the normalcy that will help me deal with the other things.”
It’s in these post-cancer treatment days that Miller almost finds it harder to figure out how she is going to live her life.
Not only has she been left with severe heart damage from the chemotherapy (as Miller puts it, she’s a 37-year-old with the heart of a 77-year-old), but the emotional scars are still raw.
And part of the problem is that they’re invisible to others.
“Suddenly, you are like, ‘I don’t want to leave [the hospital],’” she said, “because as horrible as it is, there’s a lot of security there.
“For everything that you are going through, there’s somebody that gets it…
“It’s tough to go out now, around everybody else because they think, ‘Right, chemo is done; you are back to normal now.’
“But you look in the mirror and think, ‘Who is this person whose heart is different, whose body is different, whose hair is different?’
“I used to have blonde, straight hair; now it’s dark and curly.”
But Miller’s resolve and inner strength, which have carried her thus far, are likely to carry her further.
And it’s part of the reason why her mother’s nomination was selected from among thousands nationally to see Miller named as one of this year’s Beautiful Warriors.
“I thought, what can cancer do for me?” asked Miller. “I didn’t make this cancer; it was thrown at me.
“I’m not going to let it change who I am or the way I do things and I’m going to see what I can get out of this whole experience…
“It’s constantly being your own cheerleader, because you have to keep that perspective and that attitude.
“I have kids who are the most important thing to me, and I’m glad that they were little so they didn’t have to worry.”
For more information on the Ford Warriors in Pink program and Beautiful Warriors contest, log on to www.fordvehicles.com/warriorsinpink.