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Cleveland Clinic Nurse Overcomes Stage 1 Cancer Diagnosis and Double Mastectomy

Kim Brisky after she underwent a double masectomy to treat her stage 1 breast cancer. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

Kim Brisky had no idea what to expect when she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer this past spring. Although she is a nurse and has worked at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health for 24 years, Kim was unprepared for what lay ahead.

“I knew I had a journey ahead of me, but I didn’t know what the journey was going to be,” she said.

Following a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy, Kim learned the news no one wants to hear — she had stage 1 breast cancer, ductal carcinoma. It was a very fast spreading cancer.

Recognizing that this was going to be one of the most difficult challenges she had ever experienced, Kim quickly had to learn how to lean on her colleagues, family and friends for support.

“It was an overload of information, emotions and responsibilities,” she said.” I needed support and a calm voice of reason. I have amazing siblings and a network of family and friends, but it was a big deal for me to have to reach out and ask for help. You need that. The people who surround you and support you help you get through it.”

Among the biggest hurdles were the physical side effects of chemotherapy. “It knocked me out!” Kim said. “I went from 110 mph to 0.”

Kim learned some tips to help her get through it: take in plenty of fluids both before and after chemotherapy; eat small, frequent meals; avoid eating anything that is spicy; and rinse with baking soda to prevent mouth sores. She found the second round of chemotherapy was a little easier to handle.

But then Kim began to lose her hair.

“It was traumatic!” she said. “It started coming out in clumps. It got to the point where I had to get it cut short. Then it started coming out fast and furious. I realized I would have to buy a wig. I cried at first, but then I had to let it go and move on.”

“I have an amazing group of care providers who have been working together to provide me with the best care possible. I know they’ve got my back.”

Eight weeks into her chemotherapy treatments, Kim returned to see Craig Wengler, MD, breast surgery oncologist, to discuss options and next steps.

“Dr. Wengler is clear, compassionate, genuine, competent, and professional,” she said. “He has heart. I genuinely felt that he cared about me.”

Kim did a lot of research before talking to her doctors about her next course of treatment. Should it be lump removal? A mastectomy? Radiation?

“After talking with my treatment team, I decided to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction over the course of two surgeries,” Kim said.

Kim’s first surgery took place on September 24, 2018. The following day she received the best news of her journey thus far from Dr. Wengler. “My margins were clean and there were no signs of the cancer!” Kim said.

The journey wasn’t over, but Kim was getting through it. “I take it one day at time,” she said. “I choose to have a good attitude and focus on a positive outcome. Everything is a process, and like in anything, there are setbacks. You have to be your own advocate and do everything you can to move yourself forward.”

Kim's greatest lesson? “I learned how important it is to have a care team that provides you with confidence and compassion,” she said. “I have an amazing group of care providers who have been working together to provide me with the best care possible. I know they’ve got my back.”

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