Kick-Off Survivor Speaker Kayla V.

Our 2021 San Diego 3-Day Virtual Kick-Off started Saturday morning, November 21st, with an inspiring morning kick-off hosted simultaneously on Zoom and Facebook Live. The highlight was getting to hear Kayla’s moving survivor story. If you missed it, here is Kayla’s story, in her own words.

“I’ll count the joy come every battle ’cause I know that’s where you’ll be.”

I have found myself singing these words at the top of my lungs in the months of spring and summer as I tackled my job as an inpatient physical therapist amidst the COVID pandemic. Little did I know that these words would become even more of a source of support and hope as my life was flipped upside down in July.

On July 9, I found a lump while showering and had this awful feeling and sense of doom that it was something scary. I would not even let myself think of that dreaded “c word.” Fast forward through days spent with agonizing thoughts in the back of my mind, “What if it was cancer?” “What if I’m really sick?” After a weekend of hidden anxiety, I broke down and made an appointment, called my mom and cried, then reassured myself once again it would be nothing.

July 16 was my primary appointment, which lead to an ultrasound on July 20, which revealed a cyst-like growth. After an attempted aspiration, a biopsy was completed, and my panic and anxiety once again set in. A trip home to the farm for vacation with my family was met with smiles from my unknowing nieces and nephews but tears behind closed doors with my siblings and parents.

On July 23 my world came crashing down as my phone rang in an empty house, all alone. I quietly wrote down the word cancer on a post-it note as tears streamed down my face and the nurse on the other end of the phone tried to remain composed and give me the details. The days ahead were marked with appointments with my colleagues, who now became my oncologists and surgeon. In the days ahead, I quickly learned a patient’s perspective in the hospital as I got my port placed and started chemo.

Everyone knows that fighting cancer is hard, but having to do so during a pandemic just adds another layer of worry and stress. Many aspects of life that would normally stay intact during a cancer fight, have been stripped away. Since my job is direct patient care, where I spent 30 minutes to an hour with patients working on improving mobility, I knew instantly that once I received my diagnosis, my time at work was done.

My doctors tried to tread lightly to inform me that I could no longer work, given my soon-to-be compromised immune system and the close proximity I have with patients and the amount of time I spend with them. In other words, COVID was rearing its ugly head once again to turn my world upside down in ways I never could imagine.

When I received my diagnosis, I was thankfully out on a planned vacation, but little did I know this vacation would turn into almost a year leave of absence. During these last few months, I have found myself constantly second guessing if I should be gathering with my closest friends or family to find support, something I never would have had to worry about before COVID. I have had to leave my family at the doors as I took my first walk into chemo, alone.

The thing about cancer is that it does not discriminate. It can pick any time, person, or place. This means that now, more than ever before, breast cancer awareness and fundraising for research is needed. We need to continue to fight for our pink sisters, even amongst a global pandemic.

Since my diagnosis, I have tackled 10 rounds of chemo, with 6 more to go. My infusion team has become like a family, and I enjoy catching up with them weekly to hear the latest about their kids and that new recipe they were going to try. My journey continues as I have recently ventured down to Mayo Clinic to make surgery, plastic surgery, and radiation plans; all just another step in the journey.

This road has been a long one, with plenty of road left to travel. I still have my hard days, but the good days outnumber the bad. I have had an amazing and wide team of supporters who have cheered me on every step of the way.

One of my close friends from college, Anna, lost her mom to stage 4 breast cancer in 2014. Anna, her sisters, and her mom were avid participators in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, so when Anna learned of my diagnosis, she jumped into action and created a 3-Day team. My team has grown quickly to include my closest friends and family, so I joined to tackle 60 miles with my cheer squad. Walking 60 miles will be hard, but its not as hard as fighting cancer.

Reliving these memories and my story can be hard and painful at times, but I know there is beauty within them and a story that needs to be told. If my story can help anyone… or urge someone to complete their own self breast exam or schedule their mammogram, then my story is worth sharing a million times.

Welcome to the 3-Day family, Kayla. We’re looking forward to seeing you in San Diego in 2021!