I’m a charity runner for the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation Team. For me it brings a great deal of pride and satisfaction knowing that the endurance sports I compete in can bring someone that much more closer to being cured of this awful disease. At least that’s what I dream of….then you hear the stories. The stories that people tell you after they find out your a charity runner. The stories of pain and suffering and loss and hopelessness.
Then you hear other stories. Stories from out of the blue. Stories of hope and inspiration and courage. This story is about someone very close to me…literally…she sits in the office next to mine. Her name is Amy Keilman.
In a nutshell Amy is a cancer ass kicker. Everyone knows one. Amy is one of mine.
In March of 2005 Amy was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer that had metastasized to her bones. She was 28 and newly engaged.
After a few consultations with doctors and specialists, she decided to begin her battle with hormone therapy and radiation versus traditional chemotherapy based on the make-up of her cancer cells. Hormone therapy requires you to suppress your ovary function (as her cancer was fueled by estrogen) while taking a hormone pill. Prior to having her ovaries removed in early 2006, the ovary suppression was accomplished by a monthly shot to the stomach. Each hormone treatment is effective till the body builds up a resistance to the drug – on average each treatment will last anywhere from 6 months to a year. Hormone therapy is less destructive on the body and the “good” cells and the side effects are not as intense as traditional chemotherapy.
In December of 2006, she had surgery on her right arm where a large tumor exists. The doctors inserted a titanium rod into her arm bone to secure the bone and prevent it from breaking. This also allowed her to have radiation treatment to the tumor in her arm. In 2008, she started chemotherapy with a pill called Xeloda and underwent intensive radiation treatment for three months. Once the Xeloda stopped working, she switched to a weekly IV chemo treatment that’s side effects did not include hair loss. Eventually, she reached a point where she had to undergo chemotherapy that resulted in hair loss.
This is when she sent out an email to the department basically saying “Hey all…I might be losing my hair soon because I’ve had stage IV breast cancer for a few years and I’m starting a new kind of therapy and who wants to go to the Hawks game and drink some beers?”
At the time I had been working with Amy for about 2 years never knowing what she was going through. I had noticed that she had been out of the office for longer periods of time lately but most of us thought she was pregnant. Her attitude definitely did not give it away.
I thought you’d like to hear from Amy herself so I sat down to ask a few questions…
1. Back in March 2005 how did you know something was wrong?
I found a lump in my breast a few months previously which I ignored while trying to get my insurance set up to go see a doctor. The doctor’s initial thought was that it might be a cancer tumor and scheduled additional tests right away. I wasn’t shocked by my diagnosis. My father had been diagnosed with a rare form of male breast cancer that ultimately defeated him. I had never given too much thought to the genetics of cancer since I was only 28 at the time but was not surprised by the reality of it.
2. Have you seen any major advances in cancer treatments in the past 6 years?
I know that there has been continued progress on chemo medications, treatments, scanning equipment and medical care however I approach my treatment on a drug by drug basis. By that I mean that I focus on the drug / chemo that I am currently taking and don’t dwell on how many drugs are left to treat the kind of cancer that I have. I don’t know if there are 3 more drugs left that I can take or 30 drugs left. I don’t want to live with a period at the end of my sentence. I want to live with a …… (a little Bachelorette cliché!)
3. Your attitude toward your cancer is really inspirational. Have you always been this way?
I am guessing that there are many people out there that would say that I am more of a pain in the ass than I am inspirational. My approach has always been to “just be normal”. I don’t want the fact that I have cancer to change or define me in any way. I am the same person I was before I was diagnosed except that I have some physical limitations and I hang out at the hospital more than the average person.
4. What advice can you give to anyone fighting cancer right now?
The only real advice that I have is to be well informed. There are so many hospitals, doctors and treatments to choose from so it is important to do your research and to be prepared with questions. Everyone needs to be comfortable with what treatment they get and what hospital they receive it from.
5. Have there been any positives in this whole experience?
Of course! At the time I didn’t think it was a positive, but I changed jobs a little over a year after my diagnosis. I wasn’t looking to leave public accounting but knew that I needed to reduce the stress in my life. My current position became available and with mixed emotions I took it. It worked out – I love my job and love the people that I work with and have so much more time and less stress. I have been able to spend more time with friends and family and have picked up a bunch of hobbies over the years. I am much happier and love the change in career challenges.
6. How are the treatments going?
The treatments are going as well as can be expected. I just recently started a new chemo drug called Doxil (or Kool-aid as I call it because that’s what it looks like) because the last chemo stopped “working” on the cancer that is in my lung lining. I will have my second round of Doxil tomorrow and will likely have another one or two doses before I have tests to make sure that the drug is working. Fingers crossed that I will stay on this chemo for a while!
7. I know the answer to this but I want to ask anyway….How has cancer affected your career?
In some regards it hasn’t affected my career but as I said I changed jobs because I needed to reduce stress. I am happy with the change and like what I do now so much more than public accounting. Sometimes I think that I would be more proactive with my career if I didn’t have cancer but at the same time I don’t know. It’s a hard question but I would like to think that I haven’t done anything different just because I have cancer.
8. If cancer was a physical person what would you like to do or say to him (by the way I purposely used “him”)?
Leave us alone!
9. So do you want to run the New York Marathon with me on the ACS DetermiNation team in November?
Probably the easiest question yet – um no! And I mean that in the nicest way possible!
I told you she was a cancer ass kicker.
It’s stories like this that make marathon training easy. What I do is nothing compared to what people like Amy deal with on a daily basis. Her story is uplifting. Unfortunately there are many more that aren’t.
My goal is simple. To one day find that there’s no longer a need for the American Cancer Society or Livestrong or the Susan G. Komen Foundation or any of the dozens of cancer charities all fighting against the same enemy. As long as I’m fit enough to help I’ll be at the start line.
Please help if you can by making a donation to the American Cancer Society. Just click on “Why I Run” tab at the top of the page or use the link below:
ps – Also you can follow Amy on Twitter @amostbass