Super Survivor’s Source of Strength Includes Her PatientsAs program coordinator of Memorial Medical Center’s palliative care program, Kelli Fisher has been a source of strength and stability to hundreds of patients for the last decade, many of them facing their own battles with cancer.
What she didn’t know was their own journeys would one day be a source of strength for her, after she received confirmation in 2015 that a suspicious lump in her left breast was cancer.
A Sherman resident, Kelli is one of three women who were randomly chosen as Super Survivors to be honored at this year’s Memorial’s Be Aware Women’s Fair. The seventh annual event will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, in the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Super Survivors are women whose breast cancer journeys have been an inspiration to others. Their unique stories will be shared with fair-goers when the Super Survivors reveal their makeovers, courtesy of BJ Grand Salon and Spa, and their new outfits.
Kelli’s Journey Begins
Kelli’s journey began on July 29, 2015, when she reported to her doctor’s office for a physical. The physician assistant discovered the lump on Kelli’s breast during the exam and scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound for the next day.
Breast cancer doesn’t run in Kelli’s family so she didn’t give the lump a second thought. A biopsy was completed on the same day as the mammogram and ultrasound, but Kelli remained unalarmed. She had biopsies before, and they had come back negative.
Before the biopsy, however, her doctor told her that he suspected it was breast cancer. That’s when the reality began to sink in. She cried a few tears but quickly stopped because her daughter works in the mammography area.
Although her daughter, Abbie, knew her mother was there that day, Kelli didn’t want her to know that the physician suspected cancer while she was at work. Kelli later broke the news to her husband, Brad, but they decided to wait until the diagnosis was confirmed before telling their three children.
Diagnosis & Treatment
The biopsy revealed Stage 2 breast cancer. Her physician recommended chemotherapy to shrink the size of the tumor before performing a lumpectomy to remove it. She began chemo on Aug. 19, 2015, exactly two years to the day that her own mother began chemo to treat Stage 4 lung cancer. Kelli’s mother died in June 2014.
Kelli’s chemotherapy wrapped up in late December. During her chemo, she chose not to wear either a wig or hats as she started to lose her hair. It was her way “to empower myself to better help my patients.” She said she was determined to learn from this experience.
Before her lumpectomy, Kelli took a short medical leave to get proper rest before surgery. Her lumpectomy occurred three weeks after her chemo. She returned to work and began a six-week radiation treatment for five days each week and finishing in March.
Inspiration for Kelli
Throughout her cancer journey, Kelli said she was able to draw strength from her husband, children, father, other family members, friends, patients and colleagues. One friend joined her at her medical appointments to take notes.
“It’s important to have a friend accompany you to medical appointments to take notes of what the physicians are saying because you only hear so much,” Kelli said.
“Be open about accepting help,” Kelli said. Many people want to help, “but we often believe we can do it all ourselves. Probably for the first time in my life, I had to acknowledge that I could not do this alone and I needed help.”
Finding the Strength
Everyone is different when it comes to what helps them get though their cancer journey, Kelli said. For her, it was to first find strength within herself.
“I needed to find peace within myself, which was through faith and hope,” Kelli said. Another area in which Kelli found strength was by committing to her work.
The shift in roles from being the caretaker and provider to so many patients and now being on this side has empowered her even more.
“My own mother along with my patients and families have helped me walk my own cancer journey. I thank them for being an inspiration.”