Kick-Off Survivor Speaker Missy Bartel

Our 2021 Chicago 3-Day Virtual Kick-Off started Saturday morning, September 12th, with an inspiring morning session hosted on Zoom. The highlight was getting to hear Missy’s moving survivor story. If you missed it, here is Missy’s story, in her own words.

Hi. I’m Missy Bartel.

My first exposure to breast cancer was when my paternal grandmother died from it in 1985. That was the first time someone in my family had cancer. Back then it felt like a diagnosis was a death sentence.

I had heard of people I knew getting a diagnosis of breast cancer, but it wasn’t until 2012 when one of my dearest friends was diagnosed that it hit close to home again. Maureen was in her late 50’s, in great health. She had “spider web” tumors throughout both breasts and opted for a bilateral mastectomy. She did radiation after that and after a while, she breathed a sigh of relief.

I was diagnosed in October of 2017. I had missed my annual mammogram that year because life was just really busy. I almost put it off until January, but decided I needed to take my health in hand and be proactive. When I checked in, the receptionist told me that their office was now also doing 3-D mammograms. I could do that or do the 2-D. My insurance wouldn’t cover the 3-D, so I opted to stick with the 2-D pictures. I was on the way to the airport for a trip to Boston with my stepmother when I got a call for a follow up. I was convinced that because I didn’t do the 3-D option, they were calling me back to get more money…

Imagine my surprise when I went back and was told there were two spots that the radiologist was concerned about, one on each breast and that they would be doing the 3-D pictures for free to get a better look. So much for the “out for the money” theory. The spot on the right breast was dismissed, but the one on the left was concerning. They wanted to do an ultrasound. “Please come right this way and we’ll do it now” they said. This is where I started panicking. Breathe! Breathe! The results of the ultrasound were given to me right away by the radiologist herself. There was definitely something there, and they wanted to do a biopsy. How about this Thursday?

I balked. I had just been away from my office for a week. I couldn’t take more time off. I planned to do it the following week. The biggest lesson I learned from this is NEVER do a biopsy on a Thursday. The weekend becomes the LONGEST of your life, waiting for the results. And the results came in as positive for a “malignant neoplasm, estrogen receptor >95% positive” in the left breast. Estimate Stage 1.

I was blessed to have the most compassionate, caring and detail-oriented surgeon a woman could hope for. Dr. Kaufman shared that it takes approximately 84 days for a tumor to move from one stage to the next. I was so glad I hadn’t waited until January to do the mammogram. My surgery was on December 6. He was confident he got it all and only had to take one lymph node. I was at Stage 2A.

Treatment from there was radiation for 20 sessions. Except I had an infection in the lymph node site removal, so things got bumped. I ended up finishing radiation in the first week of March 2018. And started that long road of recovery. “Keep working” the doctors said, to help with the fatigue. I was so surprised at how tired I really was.

It’s amazing how many women came forward to share their stories with me. What really struck me was just how many women have dealt with breast cancer. And how everyone’s stories, while similar, are as unique and individual as we are as people. That’s something else I learned on this journey. No two paths are going to be the same. I really wish people hadn’t told me “Oh, I just did radiation too. You won’t have any problems.” I almost felt like a failure because of how long my body was taking to get back to my “new normal”. Sara, a mentor from my church who also went through breast cancer about nine months before me shared “I wake up every day and feel more energized than I did before. I just didn’t realize how tired I was the day before”. That helped me get through!

I was surprised about how I handled things mentally too. I was in fight mode from diagnosis to the end of treatment and then just floated. In July that year, I went to the Relay for Life, something I have strongly supported as a walker in the past. I was there as a survivor this year. I walked three laps and had to go home. It was time to deal with the fact that I had just survived cancer.

My friend Maureen was awesome as well. She let me cry, shake my fists at the fates and coordinated tea dates when I needed to get away from it all. She shared some of the new information about treatments and helped me work out questions for the doctors. It was quite a shock when in January 2019, I got a call from Maureen. She shared that she’d had a pain in her hip for a few months that wasn’t going away. She finally went to the doctor and they sent her for a scan. She had stage IV metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her bones. They were estimating six months to a year for her to live.

Many thoughts crossed my mind. Horror for what my friend was going through. Despair for what her daughter was going through. Empathy for how I could help the suffering of both of them. And way down deep, a huge bucket of fear, because how do I know this isn’t going to be my story in five years?

Maureen passed away just two very short months later. That was when I got serious about being a survivor. I had heard about the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, but really started researching it. And was so impressed with how much they have done in the fight to stop breast cancer. I decided then that I was going to do the 2020 walk. I invited Maureen’s daughter to walk with me. And I opted for Boston because I have family in New York and they could walk with me. Now, with COVID, we had to change our plans and opted to do Chicago in 2021.

We’re looking forward to welcoming you to Chicago in 2021, Missy!

To hear more inspiring stories like this, you have two more chances by attending our kick-off activities. Our next virtual kick-off is on November 7th. RSVP today.