When it comes to taking care of herself, Kim Bonner of Schnecksville goes for it. From yoga and Zumba to kickboxing and even the rugged warrior dash, Kim is not afraid of a challenge and is an advocate of living healthy. As she neared her 40th birthday in October 2011, she also knew it was time to get her first mammogram for herself and her family. All came back normal.
In October 2012, as her birthday approached, Kim repeated the screening. This time, she learned of small calcifications that had formed in her left breast. A common occurrence in women as they age, calcifications are small calcium deposits that develop in a woman’s breast tissue that usually cause no symptoms and are typically benign. However, for some women, they can signal pre-cancerous cells or early breast cancer.
As a precaution, Kim would now be screened and evaluated every six months. In the latter part of 2013, calcifications in her right breast had formed and her left-breast calcifications grew. Kim waited for the holidays to pass and was scheduled for a breast biopsy January 2, 2014 at St. Luke’s Regional Breast Center in Center Valley.
A few days later, her gynecologist Dr. Tirun Gopal called and asked to speak to her and her husband as he had some difficult news to give them. “Unfortunately, the results came back positive; you have breast cancer,” he said.
“My son Eamon was also home that morning and could overhear the conversation, having had a late start to school due to the weather,” says Kim. “He was only 11 at the time, but knew something was wrong.”
Kim’s gynecologist recommended she see St. Luke’s breast surgical oncologist Dr. Tricia Kelly and was able to get an appointment the next morning. “Dr. Kelly explained everything to me and my husband Edward,” says Kim. “Fortunately for me, the cancer was extremely small and caught at the lowest possible threshold – a stage 0. Dr. Kelly was very reassuring and even though I knew I did the right things so it could be detected early, I was still completely overwhelmed and scared.”
Dr. Kelly also explained to Kim she had a choice of treatment options, but recommended she have genetic testing done before making her decision. “Genetic testing can provide answers about the potential origin of a cancer and help determine the best course of treatment,” says Dr. Kelly.
Kim had learned her paternal grandmother died of breast cancer at an early age. “I was very young at the time and never knew the cause of her death,” says Kim, “so the genetic piece was not even on my radar.” When the results came back, Kim learned she carried the gene mutation BRCA2, putting her at higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
“It was such a resounding answer,” says Kim. “It may sound strange, but I was actually relieved to have this information. Before knowing this, I kept asking if I had done this to myself as a result of fertility treatments when we were trying to have a second child.”
Fertility drugs increase estrogen in the body, explains Dr. Kelly. “While results are mixed, some studies suggest fertility drugs may stimulate the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer cells,” she says.
Kim made her choice; this bout with breast cancer would be her last. Not wanting to deal with another breast cancer diagnosis, or a possible future diagnosis of ovarian cancer, she opted for the most aggressive prophylactic treatments, starting with a double mastectomy.
According to the National Cancer Institute, prophylactic mastectomy in high-risk women may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by 90 percent. The odds were in her favor and she had the surgery. Then, as soon as Kim was able, she also underwent a complete hysterectomy with removal of her tubes and ovaries to drastically reduce her chance of developing ovarian cancer, even if this meant it would bring on menopause. Both surgeries were performed at St. Luke’s Allentown Campus.
“I had the same nurses before the procedures and in the recovery room for both surgeries – and they remembered me,” says Kim. “The St. Luke’s nurses were just phenomenal, so comforting. They talked to me about my son and my family. It really helped to calm my nerves while waiting for the surgery. I felt like I was among family.”
With these two surgeries behind her, Kim focuses on moving forward. “Not having to worry about a cancer recurrence is a relief,” says Kim. What weighs on her mind now is if she has somehow passed the BRCA2 gene on to Eamon, who can be tested for the mutation when he reaches age 18, if he chooses.
Since her diagnosis, her family and friends have been a huge support. Eamon even joined the fight by helping to raise awareness about breast cancer and how it impacts men, too. “He is such an inspiration, my source of strength, and surprises me every day,” says Kim. “He chose the topic ‘Breast Cancer Can Happen to Anyone’ for a year-long project in school this year.”
Kim focuses now on staying active, managing her health and maintaining balance in her life. She may have the gloves back on, but she is no longer fighting cancer. She back to running, warrior poses and boxing it out – in class!