The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Features

October 25, 2012

Breast cancer survivor had a community of support

CLINTON — Throughout her recent struggle with breast cancer, Kami Tubbs was humbled by the community support she received.

“The aspect of cancer that probably surprised me the most; it wasn’t the chemo or how sick I got or the surgeries and how painful they were. It was the amount of support that people just offered,” Kami said.

Kami, a nurse practitioner at Medical Associates, was diagnosed with invasive grade-three breast cancer on Feb. 10, 2011, following a Feb. 8 mammogram. She was actually six months late on her appointment.

However, that may have been lucky.

“Had I done it six months earlier, it would have been too small and they wouldn’t have seen it,” Kami said.

Kami and her husband, Brig, agreed that the night of Feb. 10, 2011, was an “awful, awful, horrible night.”

The next day they spoke with an oncologist and “dove head first” into treatments. A week after being diagnosed, she had a lumpectomy and then started chemotherapy.

She also had 36 weeks of radiation treatments. In October 2011, she had a hysterectomy. She had a bilateral mastectomy with constructive surgery in January. Her last reconstructive surgery was in May, with one more surgery to go.

Kami advises others diagnosed with cancer to take a deep breath and collect the information about their diagnosis. She adds they should find out how treatment goes and what comes afterward.

“Sometimes you can make quick decisions, not that they’re the wrong decisions, but they just might not be the same decisions that you would make if you have a little bit clearer head,” Kami said. “Because once you hear the word cancer, sometimes things get fuzzy.”

Kami said she was lucky to be in pretty good shape. This helped her through the lumpectomy and the first few cycles of chemotherapy. During the fourth treatment, she developed fluid around her heart and her blood pressure dropped. Brig said the chemotherapy had a cumulative effect on her and she was exhausted.

“I think all along I knew that everything was going to be OK,” Kami said.

Brig added that “family, friends and faith” kept them going.

“I think in the beginning you always question it. But as the whole thing continued on, you realized how blessed you are. And I think that’s where the faith comes in,” Kami said.

Kami and Brig have three daughters: Elle, 14; Grace 11; and Mia, 6. They said one of the toughest aspects of the situation was explaining to the girls that Mom had cancer.

“You can’t explain to a 4-year-old the same way you would explain to a 12-year-old,” Kami said.

They sat the girls down separately and spoke with them. They even had books for Grace and Mia’s ages to explain what their mom would go through. Brig said they were not too descriptive with Mia.

“We told her that Mom was sick and it was called cancer and that she was going to be having some treatments that were going to make her very tired and that was going to go on for awhile,” Brig said.

Throughout the ordeal, the family was surrounded with support from family, friends, and members of their church. Kami’s work was accommodating. Some of their friends created a “care calendar,” which organized people to make them dinners and drive the children to school or events.

Kami said she was also touched by the compassion the school and its students gave her children.

When Kami was at chemotherapy, friends would show up with food and gifts and keep her company. For the first six months, she received a card each day. She still has these cards in a storage tub.

“It’s those people that made the journey not so tough,” Kami said.

Kami and Brig agreed the community support made the difference. Kami advised anyone diagnosed with cancer to try to find that type of support.

“Find a person to go to your appointments with you. Find support through your friends, through your church, through your community. Because as awful as the diagnosis is, you can come out on the other side feeling humbled and blessed and eventually healthy,” Kami said.

Physically, Kami is doing wonderful. However, she said the experience is still so recent and everything is still raw.

“I think that there are times that you can go days without thinking about it. Then there are days where you just want to all of sudden cry,” Kami said.

This time of year is especially difficult. Kami and Brig agreed that Breast Cancer Awareness month is difficult for them.

“It’s great that there’s an awareness out there that is needed. But at the same time, it brings back a lot of sad feelings and feelings of frustration,” Brig said.

They both feel lucky to have received so much support and want to “pay it forward.” Working in the OBGYN department, giving breast exams, Kami feels she has a different perspective and is a more vigilant practitioner. She feels a responsibility to be a source for hope, inspiration and information. She has spoken to five to six women about breast cancer.

All said and done, Brig and Kami are happy to be where they are now.

“That’s the real story, I think, when you can feel humbled and blessed when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer,” Kami said.

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