"We can be much stronger than we have ever imagined."
– Kim Swain, cancer survivor & activist
Kim Swain says she hopes her triumph over breast cancer will inspire others, just as others have comforted and inspired her.
In December 2003, as an early Christmas gift, Kim bought a gym membership for herself and her husband. Employees at the gym told her that she needed a doctor's note before starting training because she had asthma. So Kim went to her doctor the following week. She underwent the normal breathing tests, and then, Kim's doctor offered to also give her an annual exam.
"I told her that I had just had a mammogram six months earlier," Kim says, "And everything was fine."
Still, Kim's doctor recommended she receive a breast examination. And Kim agreed. "Within a few seconds of the breast examination, I could see the concern in my doctor's eyes," Kim says.
The doctor told Kim she needed to have a diagnostic mammogram of a lump in her right breast right away. Only a few days later, Kim went to another doctor, a cancer specialist, for a mammogram and an ultrasound.
"After the tests were done, I waited," Kim says, "And then I heard the doctor ask the assistant if she got a good measurement of the lump in my breast. At that second everything went black. The room started to spin and I began to panic as though my world were crashing down around me."
The assistant brought Kim's husband to be by her side and the doctor held Kim's hand as he told her he believed there was a problem. The next step would be to administer a needle biopsy to test the lump.
A part of me knew what the results would be," Kim says. "But hearing you have breast cancer out loud for the first time sends shock waves through your system."
A week later, doctors performed a successful lumpectomy, saving most of Kim's right breast. After Kim got home, she received a phone call from Barbara Peters, a breast care specialist at Cottonwood Hospital. Barbara told Kim about all the services available through the Intermountain's multidisciplinary clinic – from emotional counseling and support to genetics counseling which helps those with a family history of cancer. Barbara said would check on Kim periodically, and reminded her that she was available to talk whenever Kim needed a friend.
In Kim's follow-up visit, her oncologist recommended she receive six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation followed by a hysterectomy and oophorectomy due to a family history of ovarian and uterine cancer.
"I called Barbara and told her I was frightened and I wasn't sure I could handle all of this," Kim says, "She calmly reassured me that we would do one thing at a time and then move on to the next."
Barbara continued to call Kim regularly over the next year and a half. And when Kim was too sick to talk, she gave her a few days to rest and then called again.
"As a nurse you're always there for the patient," Barbara says. "That's the bottom line. I listen – that's important. Hopefully, though support and education, we help them get through it. No matter what the situation, we're there for them."
Kim describes her conversations with Barbara as one of many little miracles that helped her heal during her fight with breast cancer. She says she is grateful for the care and respect of medical professionals who knew her as a person rather than a number. "Each cancer survivor has a story to tell," Kim says. "Through these challenges I have come to realize that we can be much stronger than we have ever imagined."
Just two days after one of Kim's chemotherapy treatments, she participated in Race for the Cure. Kim says she was weak, but didn't want to disappoint friends and family who had signed up to run with her. Even though she was exhausted, she slowly walked the one-mile.
Kim says she couldn't have endured breast cancer without the support of others. "They have given me the courage to carry on," she says. "This is truly a battle worth fighting."