CANCER DOESN'T DEFINE US. IT TRANSFORMS US.
"I remember waiting for my test results early on before I started my treatment. I had a routine CT and Bone Scan and was waiting anxiously for the results. They were posted online and I struggled with wanting to look at them, so my husband, sensing my anxiety, logged into my account and read the report for me while I waited for his response. I remember very vividly, standing in the back aisle of the warehouse I work in with tears in my eyes, looking up and praying to God and my mom to help me through this. It was at that moment I promised them and myself that I would do more to help people that need it the most if they guided me over this speed bump. Breast cancer is a curse and a blessing all in one . It's very scary, but I am a different person today then I was before my diagnosis."
HOW IT ALL STARTED
It was May of 2008 when the Schmidt Family was changed forever by the word "cancer". Their families matriarch, Kittie, was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer after weeks of complaining about debilitating back pain. After tests were conducted the cancer had been found in her bones, she had a tumor pressing on her spine, which was causing her discomfort. Needless to say, the family was not prepared for the news and the thought of losing her was devastating.
As with any cancer diagnosis, there were more questions in the beginning than there were answers, which only added to the anxiety that was following the family around like a dark cloud of uncertainty. There were many choices that had to be made about treatments options.
Kittie was released from the hospital with medication to control the pain, and shorty after went on a "girls trip" to Las Vegas for her youngest daughters, Kristina, 21st birthday. All involved had a blast, even Kittie, who no doubt had her mind on other things as well.
Upon arrival back to Illinois, the Schmidts reached out to Loyola Medicine in Maywood to get a second opinion. Feeling confident with the doctors and liking their aggressive approach, Kittie and her family made the decision to begin treament there, and so, she spent five long years receiving intravenous chemotherapy as well as hormonal therapy at home in the form of a pill.
Kittie handled the treatment fairly well, and was able to joyously participate in many family events, including the the birth of two grandsons, Brandon and Alex, as well as getting to witness her youngest daughter Kristina get married. She went on road trips with her husband Richard, enjoyed shopping excursions with her daughters, Sherri, Kristina and Shannon. Kittie was a great wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend and she loved each and every person in her life dearly. She was a woman that would do absolutely anything for her children and she is the epitome of FIERCE.
December 2013 brought along holiday cheer, but also great sadness. Kittie was growing tired and ultimately found peace right after Christmas. She was surrounded by her family, prayers and loving memories as she transformed into, what her family believes, their beautiful guardian angel.
Kittie Schmidt will forever live on in the hearts and minds of everyone who was privileged to have known her and to have been loved by her. She taught her family, especially her daughters, how to be warriors.
WE ARE KITTIE'S WARRIORS!
It was late December of 2008 when Sherri had a regularly scheduled gynecological exam, and decided it was time to talk to her doctor about being proactive, and getting a mammogram. At just 35 years old, this simply would be to ease her mind, knowing that her mom was recently diagnosed. At the time, her doctor advised her that she may be too young to benefit from a mammogram, as younger women tend to have denser breasts. He also advised her that her insurance may not pay for this type of test, as the NCCN and ACS guidelines state that annual mammograms for women under the age of 40 are not recommended or necessary. She decided to forgo her doctor’s suggestions, and asked him to write up the order for the mammogram anyway.
It was the middle of January, after the holidays had passed by, and Sherri scheduled her mammogram. It was on that day and at that moment in time, that she knew she had made the right decision. The radiologist commented that she would need a couple more films with increased magnification on the right breast. When finished, she had also commented that Sherri would most likely be contacted to come in for a breast ultrasound. This is when the realization hit, and the phase ‘ease of mind’ quickly started to fade away. The next day came, and she received that unwelcomed dreaded phone call from her doctor. He went on to say that her mammogram had shown a Bi-Rad 5 rating, which was highly suspicious for malignancy, and a biopsy was advised. A stereotactic biopsy was performed late January, and the results confirmed what she had been fearing for the past couple weeks. Sherri was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ (DCIS), an early form of the disease which was still contained in the milk ducts. Although it was a blessing that it was caught very early, and was considered a Stage 0, it was spread over a quarter of her breast, which meant that the only viable surgical option was a mastectomy with reconstruction. Most women go through this process with little to no setbacks. Sherri, on the other hand, had many difficulties as a result of the reconstructive expansion process. This would require 13 additional surgeries over the course of the next 3 years, which included many skin revisions, implant replacements and finally a latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction surgery. All of this brought on a lengthy recovery time compared to most cases. Happily, she is now complete with her surgeries, and has made a full recovery.
Sherri feels that her sister, Kristina, said it best… “Breast cancer is a curse and a blessing all in one.”
“Had my mom not been going through what she was at the time, I know I wouldn’t have been as persistent with my doctor in getting the proper testing, and I most likely would have waited another 5 years. My mom truly saved my life, and I will be forever grateful to her.”
Sherri dealt with all of this while her mother was being treated, and relentlessly took Kittie to all of her appointments, with the exception of one because she had a scheduled surgery that day. She took detailed notes on every aspect of what the doctors were recommending, so she could research for herself to make sure Kittie was getting the best care possible. She took care of all her insurance claims and billing, and made sure her medications were in order, and that Kittie knew what to take and when to take it. At the time, Sherri was Kittie’s guardian angel here on earth with how selflessly she took the bull by the horns, and made sure everything possible was being done to ensure Kittie had the best and most uninterrupted life she could possibly have.
Kittie’s fierceness showed Sherri how to be a warrior.
SHERRI IS, KITTIE'S WARRIOR!
It was late 2017 when Kitties Warriors Founder, Kristina Russell, was diagnosed with stage 2, triple-negative, invasive ductual carcinoma. Just thirty years old years old at the time, it was hard to grasp how something like breast cancer had chosen her at such an early age, but it wasn't necessarily a surprise given her family history. She had been going for yearly exams after her mother and sister were diagnosed and the tests had always come back all clear. Her doctor at the time, had said doing yearly breast MRI's and mammograms didn't seem necessary, and against her best judgement, Kristina went along with his recommendation, afterall, what were the odds, right?
In September of 2017, Kristina began to doubt her current doctor for multiple reasons, so she sought out someone new, who was much younger, listened and was very proactive. During her first visit, her new doctor looked at her family history and wrote her a referral for a relatively new clinic that Central DuPage Hospital was offering, which was for women who were at high risk for breast cancer. It was October before she was able to get in with the clinic, and a week or so before her appointment was when she felt a strange sensation when lying on her side in bed, beyond further examination, she realized it was a lump but it didn't feel well defined and was movable, so at first she wasn't concerned, having had a benign lump in the same breast before that she thought felt similar. When she went to her clinic appointment, the APN suggested a mammogram and ultrasound be scheduled to see what was going on. Going into the tests, Kristina still wasn't concerned, thinking it was just another benign mass, similar to the one she had in the past. However, things changed quickly when the ultrasound tech said the radiologist wanted to speak to her. She was brought back in consultation room where a patient navigator and the radiologist were waiting for her. As many women say, the next part was a blur, the radiologist said the mass looked suspicious and a biopsy needed to be done. On November 20th, her breast surgeon called with the results, and her life instantly changed.
After her diagnosis, a whirlwind of appointments ensued. Kristina and Nathan's hopes of starting a family of their own were put on hold and important decisions had to be made due to the the effect chemotherapy has on the reproductive organs. After talking to a fertility counselor out of Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, they decided their best option was to go through with fertility treatments to give themselves the best chance of having their own family in the future. The process included lots of paperwork and instructions on how to use the fertility drugs and when they arrived in the mail the next day, things felt more real. They read over the instructions and started the regimen of drugs put together for them. There were early morning weekday appointments for blood work and an ultrasound almost everyday, which required Kristina to drive to the city from West Chicago before work to complete. After her levels were considered in the prime range for retrieval, the outpatient procedure was scheduled, preformed and successful.
Kristina only had a few days to recuperate from the procedure before her first round of chemo was administered. Her oncologist ordered ACT as the drug regimen of choice over the course of her eight rounds, the first four rounds consisting of Adriamycin & Cytoxan and the last four consisting of Taxol alone. All things considered, she has handled the treatment well and doesn't have much to complain about in terms of side effects, knowing there are many people that have it worse.
Kristina underwent a bilateral mastectomy on April 24, 2018 at NMH - Central DuPage Hospital which consisted of immediate over-the-muscle breast reconstruction. On April 26th, her 31st birthday, she got a call from her breast surgeon that all the lymph nodes were negative and there was no residual cancer in the breast. She had, what the doctors call, a complete pathological response.
"I truly believe this happened for a reason and in the way it was supposed to happen. When I look back and reflect on the situation I can see how the pieces fell together. I truly believe that my mom was by my side through all of this, and still is. Don't get me wrong, there was and still is action required on my part, she's not doing everything for me, but I do believe that she guided me through every step of the way. Just as my sister said, I feel my mom saved my life. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't have started getting screened so early or been as educated. Things could have been different."
Kitties fierceness taught Kristina how to be a warrior.
KRISTINA IS, KITTIE'S WARRIOR!
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Tell us your story and we may post it on our website in the hopes that it will help others going through a difficult time, whether it be someone going through it right now, a survivor, care giver, friend or family member. Remember, you are FIERCE, you are BEAUTIFUL and you are a WARRIOR!