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At Home with Kathy Steepleton

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At Home with Kathy Steepleton

Kathy Steepleton knew there was something going on in her body.

Story: Bridget Broihahn

Photos: Bridget Broihahn

Kathy Steepleton knew there was something going on in her body.

“Six years have gone by,” she said as she brushed her thick mane of dark hair out of her face. Her skin is vibrant and glowing. Her eyes are bright and sharp. She is the picture of health and beauty. Six years ago, she had just had a regular mammogram. It was clean. But, her family was right in the middle of switching insurances, and details were convoluted. And it was six years ago. Technology has progressed much since then.

“I had a cyst drained. There was a knot and it dimpled. They told me not to overreact,” she said as she petted Meesha, one of her four fur babies.

Her other dogs: Bo, Sasha, and Greta nuzzled her as they sat with her on their sunny patio. Steepleton just knew there was more to it than that. She knew she wasn’t overreacting.

“I insisted they do an investigative mammogram,” she said.

Breast cancer revealed

“At the time, I was in the doctor’s office hearing that I had cancer and at that same moment, my oldest son texted me saying that my mom had just died,” she said with a catch in her throat as she recalled that day and the events that would forever change her.

She remembers becaming very still. She was numb. It was a nightmare from which she could not wake up. “I don’t know how I got home,” Steepleton said.

Then, they needed to do a biopsy to determine the scope of the cancer. Once they completed the biopsy, Steepleton would get her treatment going. She was a busy wife and a mom of three-with two boys still at home. She had a thriving career and she was always on the go.

“They called about the biopsy- and I’ll never forget it. I was at Target,” she said.

They performed a needle-guided biopsy on both breasts.

“They found more cancer in my breast,” she said.

The treatment started

Steepleton’s, Dr. Kendrith Rowland, an oncologist, prescribed a protocol for her cancer. Cancer treatment protocols are as unique as each case of cancer. In the case of breast cancer, the stage of cancer is determined, the type of cancer, and the patient’s overall health are some of the many things to be considered when an oncologist puts together a treatment plan for a patient.

She underwent a mastectomy, which is the surgical removal of the breast. Since she was diagnosed as stage 2A that meant the cancer is growing, but it is still contained in the breast or growth has only extended to the lymph nodes. Stage two is divided into two groups: 2A and 2B. The difference is whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and the size of the tumor. There are four stages of breast cancer. Stage two breast cancer patients can hope for remission because this stage is highly treatable. Steepleton was still scared.

“I had 12 lymph nodes removed, so now I have lymphedema,” Steepleton said.

Lymphedema is the condition when fluid of the immune system called “lymph” builds up in the body. Since Steepleton had lymph nodes removed, she was affected by it.

Next she had to consider whether or not to have reconstruction.

“I did want that. They inserted expanders to stretch the skin. Later, they inserted an implant. It was an interesting process,” she said.

Dr. Rowland prescribed a chemo-therapy protocol that would last six months.

Support is important

“Chemo wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. My husband, Doug, went with me. He supported me 100 percent. He went to every appointment and chemo treatment. He helped me with everything from changing bandages to cooking dinner. We had our little routine,” she said.

She then lost her beautiful hair.

“I went ahead and shaved my head when it started falling out. I wore wigs,” she said.

If anyone noticed the wigs they never mentioned it, Steepleton said. She said it’s really important to get a high quality wig or two, as it really makes a difference.

There is another dark side to breast cancer that she was totally blindsided by: some people couldn’t handle that she had cancer. People that she had called “friend” left her life. Some skulked away. Others were downright mean to her.

“Quite frankly, I shut down. I lost friends. They couldn’t cope. I had one tell me I wasn’t any fun to be around anymore. Another told me that at least I got a free boob-job, and it really hurt my feelings,” she said.

The real deal

“When chemo is over, the battle really begins. It’s mental. You’re always wondering,” Steepleton said.

She is a true breast cancer warrior and survivor. Her life has changed exponentially, too.

“I lost my job. I know I could’ve sued to get it back, but I was just tired,” she said.

She now freelances as a photographer, and practices her craft with the Piatt County Camera Club. She transported dogs for the Bark and Ride Transport that operates a multi-state shuttle for canines from a kill shelter to no kill shelters. Her dogs are rescued pets. She said they are her therapy.

“After breast cancer, I needed a focus and a way to give back so volunteering at Arabella Boutique after cancer treatment, and helping other breast cancer women was another way to help. And then I started helping with the dog rescue from the shelters of Tennessee,” Steepleton said.

She relishes her sons: Brandon, Noah and Nick, her husband, and her new life.

“Noah is a senior and looking to attend the UI or Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis for a degree in mechanical engineering to start a career in F1 motorsport. And Nick, a junior at Mahomet, is working towards a rap music career. My oldest son, Brandon, is at home in Alabama with his two-year-old daughter- and my granddaughter-Skyla,” Steeplton said.

The struggle brings blessings, however.

“After losing my job at ATT after 14 years due to my diagnosis, my life changed. Now I was able to take and pick up my boys from school and be at home with them. But with that, finances have changed, too. It’s been a struggle. Things happen for a reason. I truly believe that. I had always wanted to be at home with the boys while they were growing up. However, I did not imagine breast cancer would get me to that point,” Steepleton said.

And she’s going to relish her life, she said.

“It’s been a long six years. I am blessed that it’s been six years since diagnosis. What friends and family of any cancer patient should remember is that the support should not end after treatment ends. It’s afterwards that we need help finding ourselves and getting back to a new normal. I don’t like that cliché that everything works out, but in reality, at least for me, it did. I’m going to keep living,” she said.