Blogs Personal Journal Celebrating Milestones During Cancer Treatment

Celebrating Milestones During Cancer Treatment

Written by  Kim Mallett
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Celebrating Milestones  Starting treatment, especially chemo, is flat out scary.  No one can really explain what it feels like and it affects everyone differently.  Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing, and your flight response kicks in to high gear. Chemo treatments range in their side effects, duration, and frequency.  One person’s experience can be vastly different from someone else’s.  Considering I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, I was given an aggressive chemo cocktail to combat it.

I was young and physically strong, so my body could tolerate the multiple side effects that were associated with the treatment.  I was destined to lose my hair, enter instant menopause, experience bone pain, and have a compromised immune system. I was not looking forward to the next 4 months of my life. I needed to figure out a way to embrace an experience that terrified me.  While chemo was about to wreck havoc on my body, it was also going to save my life.  Ironically, it was my best friend, not my enemy.  Each treatment would kill the cancer that was attacking me and eventually help me get well. It is hard to wrap my mind around the fact that poisoning my body actually would help me, but that was the case.

celebrating milestones during cancer treatmentSo, how could I make the whole experience more pleasant?  How could I actually look forward to each treatment rather than dread it? One word: PRIZES! I’ll admit it, I thrive on reinforcement.  I get embarrassingly excited over the smallest things.  I knew that we needed a prize system for chemo so that I would look forward to each treatment.  I had a treatment every 2 weeks and I received a prize for each one.  Sometimes it was something little, like a pair of shoes or earrings I had been admiring.  It could be a visit from a distant loved one or watching a movie.  It didn’t have to be big or expensive—just something to look forward to.  Shortly after I was diagnosed I met a woman who had finished treatment and was doing well.  She told me her husband made a deal with her that if the cancer was detected in her lymphnodes, then he would buy her a convertible.  When she received her test results indicating that this indeed was the case she called her husband and told him that she had some bad news—he had to buy her a car (which he did).  It is interesting how we can shift our perspective from fear and dread to hope and optimism.  It simply is a matter of perspective.

Pre-chemo dinners and parties.  The first week after each chemo infusion was the hardest on me.  The nausea was the worst during this time (despite being on 4 anti-nausea medications) and eating was a bit tricky.  The night before each chemo treatment we made it a point to go out for dinner  and enjoy some of my favorite foods.  Every treatment was one step closer to the finish line, and we celebrated my progress.  We also made it a point to throw parties whenever we could—cancer never limited the amount of celebration in our home.  In fact, it was a constant reminder we should celebrate life and those that we love.  We had birthday parties, going away parties, and even a “No More Chemo Cocktail Party” after my last treatment.  My brother Russell and dear friend Jeannie traveled across the country to spend their birthdays with me.  Knowing someone is willing to celebrate their birthday while sitting with you in a hospital is touching beyond words.
celebrating ryan's birthday




Ryan’s birthday celebration

russells-birthday                                                                             My brother Russell’s birthday

jeannies-birthdayMy dear friend Jeannie’s birthday.  






Ring that bell.  There was a tradition in the infusion room at the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute where I was treated.  A former patient believed everyone should do something to commemorate being finished with chemo, so he donated the survivors’ bell.  After their last treatment, patients are cheered on by the staff and fellow patients while they proudly and loudly ring the survivors’ bell. I have never wanted to ring a bell so badly especially since I realized that some patients would not get the opportunity.  I eyed that bell each time I entered and left the infusion room. Finally my turn came and I can assure you it felt great!  As you can tell by the photo, I was truly overjoyed to ring that bell.  I am a relatively accomplished person, but finishing treatment and beating cancer is one of the accomplishments in my life that I cherish the most. 

last day of chemo ringing survivor bell 
Last day of chemo—ringing the Survivors’ Bell!

The finish line. While I completed most of my treatment in relation to breast cancer in 2008, I had one final hurdle to overcome.  I had to have my ovaries removed since I also have a significant risk of developing ovarian cancer.  In January 2011, a mass was discovered on one of my ovaries during a routine ultrasound, and surgery was inevitable.  It seemed the decision of when to have the operation was made for me, which in many ways was a blessing.  Nobody wants to make that decision voluntarily.  The surgery went well, the mass was not malignant, and I was finally done with a very long road of treatment.  You might be wondering what the prize was for finishing the last hurdle.  Let’s just say my husband recently started researching convertibles.


Kimberly Mallett Bio
I have a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology and am currently a Research Faculty member at Penn State. My research is health based and focuses on the prevention of skin cancer and substance abuse.  I am originally from the west coast and moved to Pennsylvania in 2005.  I grew up in California and have lived in Boise, Idaho and Seattle, Washington.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 31.  I learned I had the BRCA 2 genetic mutation, which is why I was so young at the time of my diagnosis.  I underwent several surgeries (including a double mastectomy and hysterectomy) and months of chemotherapy. I am currently cancer free, happy, healthy, and enjoying life to the fullest.

How do you celebrate your milestones?  Please contribute a comment!


#4 Dori Seignious 2014-03-01 01:35
Just fininished with dhemo, going to take an arimatese blocker. Onoco type DX 6, and they still want to do some radiation , I have a grade one, not on aggressive cancer at tall, I think radiation is overboard. I did the radical doulble, with3 lymph nodes on one side, dhemo , ovaries next. I am just really vehehment about radiation inputs
#3 Ryan Mallett 2013-02-08 01:17
Hi Tammie and Shelley,
I hope you are both doing well. Please feel free to reach out to Kimberly or myself. Kim's email is and mine is . Kim is doing great and I hope you are too!
Best Regards,
#2 Tammie 2012-12-11 13:14
Kim, you're simply amazing and inspiring!!! I'm currently undergoing aggressive chemo (TAC) for aggressive invasive breast cancer that literally came out overnight. I have 3 young kids and have tried to make this adventure fun for them every step of the way. We all took turns shaving my head, even my 3 year old, so that we would take my hair before chemo. I promised them as soon as I lost it all, which I now have, they are allowed to sharpie my head; draw, color, write. This helps them want things to happen. They know the sicker I am, the better. I told them we want that because that means the cancer is going away. So they don't mind mommy sick. It's a great thing. 2 more chemos to go then my double mastectomy. I just turned 39. I would love to be on touch with you. Your outlook is like mine. I've been told by so many that I'm their inspiration. I just need to kick this wicked breast cancer in it's a$$. My family needs me!!!!!
#1 Shelley Nolden 2011-10-17 10:44
I loved this essay. I'm just finishing my daunorubicin consolidation treatment for AML, and yesterday my friend and I were perusing the Pandora charm website. I have a bracelet with my milestones. Though I love your ideas! It's so great to read about strong fighters.












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