During October, breast cancer awareness month, the subject is top of mind. But for Kristie Cox of West Carrollton, breast cancer has become life impacting year round since she was diagnosed with a particularly deadly form in early 2013.
“I do self-exams and found a lump,” Cox said. “I didn’t really think that was unusual because I had had some problems before and some inflammation so I made a follow-up appointment.” After that appointment, Cox was scheduled for a biopsy and the tests came back positive for Stage 3, “triple negative,” breast cancer, an invasive ductal carcinoma.
Cox, 46, had also tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene and had lost her mother, grandmother, two aunts and grandfather to cancer. “It seemed inevitable that I would eventually be diagnosed with cancer,” she said. Her diagnosis, however, came at a particularly devastating time for her family, since her husband had passed away from leukemia just last year at the age of 42 and she is raising three boys, ages 6, 18 and 21, on her own.
The bad news about her rare form of breast cancer is that it does not respond well to traditional treatments. “Triple negative breast cancer cells do not have estrogen or progesterone receptors” said Dr. Erin McRae, of the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, the hospital where Cox is being treated. “Kristie has just completed chemo but will need aggressive treatment including surgery and radiation.”
The good news is that Cox maintain a positive attitude and has a strong support system, including her best friend of 37 years, Wendy O’Connor, who goes with her to every medical appointment, helps her keep track of medications, care for her boys and her household.
“Wendy is my rock,” Cox said. “My children have gone through so much with cancer between their dad and now me. I share my fear and frustrations with Wendy and I just have a strong will to beat this because of my children. She keeps me upbeat and looking towards the future and I never have to worry about how I’m going to get to my next appointment or to the grocery story. I’m lucky to have her.”
Cox chose to make the 130-mile round trip to Columbus for her chemotherapy treatments because she said, “I don’t have time to play around and I need the best care available now, and I’m getting it at OSU.”
Cox saw nine doctors on her first visit to the James and they are all conducting research on her specific cancer. “I know they are going to help me beat this,” she said.
Cox completed her chemotherapy in late August and recently had a double mastectomy. “I’m scheduled to begin radiation at the end of the month and I’ll have that every day for about eight weeks,” Cox said. “Once that is complete, I will wait another four weeks and then go in for reconstructive surgery in Columbus.”
According to McRae, patients like Cox are advised to continue their normal activity as much as they are able and that includes working and family activities. “We recommend patients exercise at least 30 minutes each day even while on chemo as long as they can tolerate it and are feeling well,” she said.
For Cox this means continuing to work as often as possible at her job as an operations coordinator. “It’s really difficult to work and take chemotherapy,” she said. “Side effects include neuropathy and nausea and I’ve lost 37 pounds since March. But I’m the only income in the home so it’s important that I work as much as I can. My employer has been great and really has worked with me.”
Cox also continues to feed her passion for hobbies including photography. In August she photographed the Pelotonia, a cross Ohio bike ride that has raised more than $52 million for cancer research. “My goal is to walk in the Making Strides for Breast Cancer 5K in Dayton on Oct. 19,” Cox said. “Wendy and my boys will be walking, so if I’m too sick to walk, they will do it for me.”
“I know that because of research I have a better chance to beat this,” Cox said. “I do a lot of photography to help me see the future. And I stay strong by viewing every day as a new beginning and creating a cancer-free world for my children.”