It’s time for another fabulous guest blog!
Today we are delighted to introduce Kari.
Kari describes herself as a farm girl from Minnesota who now lives in the countryside in Wisconsin with her husband, two kids (ages 12 and 15), and her dog, Lucky.
Kari is a high school chemistry teacher and will shortly be starting her 21st year of teaching! Kari enjoys lazy lake days at her family’s cabin, reading, and spending time with those she loves.
You can find Kari on Instagram at @kekuhl
Kari has written about her experiences last year following her diagnosis. Here is Kari’s story:
“Life sure can turn on a dime and test you in ways you never expected.
Last year, 2019, was the year I never expected to have thrown at me, at least not yet. I was 43 and school was out for the summer; I’m a high school chemistry teacher. I was looking forward to lake days and playing chaperone to my two kids, ages 11 and 14. Instead, I spent the majority of the summer sitting in doctors’ offices, having biopsies and other myriad of tests, and finally the chemo chair. Oh, and let’s not forget about the 3 night stint in the hospital for a pretty bad deep vein thrombosis in my left arm.
The whole ordeal actually started in February. My husband found a lump in my right breast (yes, you can go down THAT road with assumptions!). He’s a family medicine physician and was able to get me in to see my doctor that morning and then an appointment that afternoon for an ultrasound. Luckily, it turned out to be a cyst. Fast forward 4 months. It’s now the end of June and I made the five hour trek with the kids to my mom and dad’s house for the weekend to celebrate my dad finishing chemo for bladder cancer. On the way, I started to get very intense breast pain and swelling. This was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was painful to move my arm and I couldn’t sleep, I assumed it was due to the cyst getting larger and having my period. A few days later, the pain and swelling began to subside, but I decided to have it checked out anyway, thinking I would need to get the cyst aspirated. My annual mammogram was due in a month, but I really didn’t want to wait. It’s a good thing I didn’t.
This time, as I sat in the waiting room of the Breast Center, I was much less anxious. After all, in my mind I already knew what it was. It turned out I was wrong. The cyst was indeed much larger and needed to be aspirated, but next to it was another mass that hadn’t been there in February, and it was not another cyst.
Two weeks later, I had 8mL of fluid drained from the cyst and the other mass biopsied. The next eight days were excruciating. I got the phone call the following day as I was in parking lot of our grocery store. I had triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma. I had zero risk factors but somehow cancer chose me.
Things happened so quickly I couldn’t breathe. It was like I was in a dream. I had a consult with a surgeon, a BRCA test (which was negative), an MRI, another biopsy for another mass that showed up on the MRI, my port-a-cath placed, a consult with oncology, a PET scan, and finally my first chemotherapy. Oh, I also had to tell my work I would not be returning to school that fall to teach.
Being an easygoing person, I had no idea what anxiety was until then. It was almost debilitating. Once I started chemo, it subsided some because I was actively doing something, but all I could think about was cancer. What if I died? How would my kids survive that? How would it affect my husband? What about my parents? I couldn’t sleep, had a panic attack while driving, and was so weak from the stress.
Miraculously, the chemo did not make me sick at all. That was about the only thing that seemed to be a bright spot. The anxiety kind of came to a head in August when I was in the hospital with a DVT, a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot), which was induced by my port. I spent 3 days in ICU being treated, and when they moved me to a regular medical floor, I finally broke down from the stress and anxiety when a nurse from interventional radiology happened to stop in to check on me. The poor guy. He had to listen to my blubbering and crying for 45 minutes. The next day I was finally on-board with taking something to help me out.
After this, things improved. I wasn’t sick from chemo, but I was horribly fatigued until I finished the first course (8 weeks of Adriamycin and cyclophosphamide). Once I started 10 weeks of taxol I bounced back and was able to go back to teaching 4 days a week, with chemo every Friday. I made it my mission to teach my students about how I was navigating cancer and how the treatments worked. The teacher became the student on Fridays, and then became the teacher again on Monday.
My hope is that my experience can show my students that when they are thrust into the cancer world at some point, either for themselves or a loved one, they’ll know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
I also learned a few things along the way that were not related to science. I found I had a far greater support system than I could’ve imagined.
My good friend, Tami, was there every day. She set up a Relay for Life team in my honor and also set up a meal train. She was with me for my PET scan and my first chemo. She came over when I couldn’t stand to be alone.
My kids, despite their own fears, were tough and resilient. My husband was steadfast, a calming voice of reason, and beyond supportive.
My dad, who had just gone through his own bout with cancer, made so many trips to be my babysitter I lost count. He was who I called when I needed someone to tell me I was thinking crazy thoughts.
I also learned that I’m a tough cookie and a positive outlook makes all the difference. I may not be able to change my circumstances, but I sure can choose how I react to them. It’s also ok to ask for help, both from others and from anti-anxiety meds. That was a tough pill to swallow.
Now it’s 2020 and a year later. I endured 20 weeks of chemo, a single mastectomy with no reconstruction, the removal of three lymph nodes (all of which were negative for cancer), and two other stints in the hospital for a DVT. Yes, two. I got another one five days after surgery. But here I am with hair growing back and, despite COVID, the excitement of a new school year because this year I get to go back on day one.
Cancer sucks. It ruled my thoughts and emotions for over six months. But it’s not getting any more of my energy.”
Thank you, Kari, for talking so openly about everything you have been through. We agree with you; you’re one tough cookie!