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.
So, 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.
Ryan’s birthday celebration
My brother Russell’s birthday
My 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 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.
- Read Kim's blog, "Cancer picked the wrong girl," about finding out she was diagnosed with breast cancer
- Kim shares her story about receiving a life-changing breast cancer diagnosis in this HealthSmart episode
- And, watch this inspirational follow-up interview with Kim about reaching the finish line of her breast cancer journey
How do you celebrate your milestones? Please contribute a comment!