BRIGHTON — Having breast cancer has taught Cathy Kilpatrick not to “sweat the small stuff.” In fact, since being diagnosed with HER2 breast cancer about a year ago, the positive-thinking 63-year-old Brighton resident has made it her slogan.
Kilpatrick said early detection saved her life and was at work on Aug. 4 at 3:30 p.m. when she found out she had cancer. She said it was like a cliché where someone gets the phone call where they learn they have cancer and say, “wait a second, run that by me again.”
“I watch the news, I’m aware of my surroundings, I know what can happen and what happens to people and you know, it’s not going to happen to you,” she said.
She remembered she was getting ready to leave work early to get a stitch out of her forehead and didn’t want to go. She told her boss at United Power what happened and said “this wasn’t supposed to happen, this wasn’t part of the gig, I didn’t see this coming.” She said he told her to go get the stitches out anyway.
“Once I figured out what was happening to me, I decided that I’m not going to let this get me, I’m just not,” she said, adding that she then needed to figure out what steps she needed to take to move forward with her treatment.
Kilpatrick enlisted the help of some of her best girl friends to help her understand her diagnosis and treatment process, she said one friend took notes and another knew exactly what to ask the doctors.
After learning she was HER2-positive, her doctor presented her with options of treatment, telling her she could get a lumpectomy, a mastectomy or a double mastectomy.
“I told him I want both of them off because I don’t want to go through this in another five years; find it in the other side and he told me he was glad I made that decision. He was hoping that I would,” she said.
She said once she made the decision, her doctor operated and took both breasts off and that she had expanders put in to help stretch the skin as part of reconstruction.
After four weeks of healing, she began her chemotherapy in October of 2011 and was also given a medicine called herceptin which only treats the HER2 type of breast cancer. Kilpatrick said the cancer wasn’t in her lymph nodes she didn’t need to have radiation therapy because it was caught in time.
“The chemo did put me down,” she said. “I remember trying to do the dishes — I’d get up, start the dishes and I’d have to go lay down. Then I’d get up and do a little bit more. It would take me about three times to do just regular dishes — I mean, that’s how much it pooped me.”
She continued to work at United Power while she underwent chemotherapy. She said she would get her treatments on Wednesday and that the effects would hit her on Friday evening, which worked out perfectly. She said all of her family at United Power stepped up to the plate and helped her more than she ever could imagine.
“I couldn’t have done this without my United Power family, I really couldn’t have,” she said.
Kilpatrick finished up her chemotherapy Feb. 1 of this year but had to continue getting her herceptin every three weeks until September. She said on her last day all the girls at the doctor’s office and girls who had chemo with her and that she became friends with celebrated by having apple cider in champagne flutes.
She said by taking herceptin and finishing chemo, her cancer is 85 percent likely not to come back which she believes is “really good odds.”
“This is just a speed bump in my life and we’ll get over it,” she said. “It does make you look at things differently. I’ve always been an optimistic person, but if I could be even more optimistic, it made me even more optimistic.”
As a result of her cancer, Kilpatrick has teamed up with friend and Platte Valley Medical Center Communications Manager Charmaine Weis to make a documentary so she can do something to help other women.
“If it helps another woman get through this, it’s going to be all worth it,” she said.
Although she has finished up with chemotherapy and the herceptin, Kilpatrick is in the final stages of her reconstructive surgery and she is anxiously waiting to get her port out.
The advice Kilpatrick would give to other women is to be vigilant with their mammograms and to go every year — but only if they want to save their own lives — and of course, not to sweat the small stuff.
“When I die, on my tombstone I want don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said. “Life is too short and you need to enjoy every bit of it that you got.”