“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
After her annual mammogram in June of 2020, Michigan resident Kim Henshaw was told to come back for a second screening. This has happened before because she has dense breasts, so she wasn’t worried. She said she had been feeling sore, but attributed it to being perimenopausal.
“I don’t know why that one time, I actually listened to my gut,” she said getting choked up.
She made an appointment for November, which happened to be on her mother’s birthday.
During that appointment, they did an exam, and felt something. An ultrasound machine was wheeled in and they found a mass that looked as if it wasn’t attached to anything. So they immediately did a biopsy.
“This was moving very fast,” she said.
Kim received a call from her doctor, who told her that she had stage 1A breast cancer. This was in 2020 and she was 47 years old. She and her husband both cried; they said they really didn’t think it was going to be cancer. But then she turned into “business mode,” asking questions and finding out the next steps to take.
“It was a gut blow,” said Kim. “But at that point when it’s happening to you, you have to put things into compartments, like let’s get this process moving.”
Her primary care doctor suggested finding a breast surgeon in Michigan because they had her family history of cancer with her mom and cousin. However, Kim decided to go to Green Bay for treatment because of its good reputation and they offered more options in general compared to the Upper Peninsula.
After her diagnosis, the treatment process started. She had an MRI and an ultrasound around Thanksgiving then had surgery in January of 2021. She ended up getting an infection in one of her tissue expanders which had to then be removed. For the next several months her breasts were lopsided until she could have another expander put in. She also had a bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomy.
Her fourth and final surgery was in November 2021 to have implants put in.
Kim said the hardest part about this entire process was that her husband couldn’t be by her side in the hospital after two of four surgeries because of COVID restrictions.
Her husband, family and Aurora BayCare were a great support system.
“Friends rallied around me,” she said. “People came out of the woodwork… they sent gifts, cards, pajamas and other care items.”
Kim said it can be difficult for friends and family to express their support if they don’t know what to say. She said maybe instead of asking, “how are you?” ask “how was your day?”
She said sending them little pick-me-ups like memes and happy face emojis mean so much when you are feeling down.
“From my perspective, I’d rather have them put something out there [rather than not saying anything at all], and we can start a dialogue from there,” she said.
Kim also said her nurse navigator was an awesome resource for her whenever she had questions.
She said after her breast cancer journey, she really realized what “living life to the fullest” means. Her and her husband are living by the mantra, “you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”
“You don’t know what phone call you’ll get, or what might happen in your family or in the world,” she said. “We’ve really just seized every opportunity and every moment to do new adventures and spend time together.”
Kim said they have reflected on not sweating the small things.
“I used to overthink things, but I’ve learned to just let it go because in the grand scheme of things, everything that I’ve been through, it’s really not that important.”
Her advice to anyone who feels something might be off about their health, is to be adamant about getting answers. She said since she trusted her gut, her cancer was caught early enough where she didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation. She said to talk about how you feel because you are not alone.
Kim is very open about telling others about her journey.
“Sometimes I feel guilty saying I’m a cancer survivor because when I look at what everyone else went through and the extent of their treatments and mine was not like that I almost feel guilty that mine was easy,” said Kim, then acknowledging that her life-changing experience still makes her “part of the club.”
She’ll be on hormone therapy for three more years.
Kim and her husband Dan have been married for 19 years, and have a 25-year-old son and two little grandchildren.
She is a para professional at a small local elementary school.
She enjoys running, reading, gardening, spending time with her granddaughters and traveling. She looks forward to “being present for all the things” with her family and friends, and spending more evenings on her back porch with a glass of wine enjoying her view of Lake Superior.
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