Chelsea Kurtz

Chelsea Kurtz - profileAge at Diagnosis: 32

Current Age (at time of profile): 33

Hometown: New Westminster, BC

How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?

My husband and I had just bought our first home and prior to moving to New West, I had gone to the doctor in Vancouver for my regular yearly exam. Nothing unusual was noted. Within maybe three weeks of that exam, I happened to accidentally brush past a very noticeable lump in my breast while showering and the rest is history.

What year was it? What was your age at the time?

I was diagnosed in October 2006 had just turned 33.

Do you work? Yes, but am currently on sick leave.

What was your diagnosis?

Grade 3 breast cancer, later determined to be Stage 2 (with 2 out of 14 nodes involved & poor margins).

What are your career goals?

To return to my job as soon as possible. I work as Assistant Director of a holistic bodywork & massage school.

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

I first received a message on my answering machine saying I needed to come see the doctor for my results a day early. I knew exactly what that meant. I had literally read an eerily similar article in a magazine about a month prior, so at that time I was in total shock and denial. It was surreal. Yet within about a day or so of receiving my diagnosis, I felt really, I don’t know calm. As if I had clear insight into why this happened to me and in turn, that helped me feel empowered to play a strong role in regaining my health.

How did your family react?

Overall just very supportively, each in their own ways, and no one pushed their emotional needs on me.

How did your friends react?

I’m sure many people experience this. Friends I might have expected more support from have not really been there and others have come through in the most amazing ways, so unexpectedly. People I barely know or haven’t seen in years have offered to rearrange work schedules to drive me around, relatively new friends have offered to be there day or night no matter what, etc. With very minor exceptions, the support has been unbelievable; you really realize how wonderful people are and how much you must have impacted some people without even realizing it. It’s a testament to both yourself and others.

What did your treatment consist of?

Medical Side: I had a lumpectomy in November and am now going through my first round of chemo (of 6 total). And I’m told that afterward, since my margins were poor, I will need to have further surgery. Yesterday, I signed off on a full masectomy and will be going for my reconstruction consult soon. This will be followed possibly by radiation and possibly by further treatment related to my HER2 status which I’ve not yet received.

I recovered quite well from the lumpectomy, had been feeling pretty great until I began chemo (New Years Day at 8 am, Happy New Year!) The chemo was HORRIBLE at the onset vomiting like crazy, intense lethargy, a mouth tasting like poison, trouble sleeping, etc.

Non-Medical Side: Emotionally, I feel pretty great. I have a great support system and more importantly, I feel I have myself to lean on now as well. Almost immediately after being diagnosed, I signed myself up for the seminar at the Centre for Integrated Healing in Vancouver. I have always been a holistic-minded person and this place has been a gift, totally emulating my ideals about seeing cancer patients as people and not symptoms, and empowering us to do so much more than just take chemo, etc. I honestly don’t know how people get through something like this without access to a place like this. I feel so lucky to be involved in the Centre.

In which hospital(s) were you treated?

My surgery was at Mt. St. Joseph’s Hospital in Vancouver and I get chemo at the Fraser Valley Cancer Care Centre in Surrey.

What is your current medical status?

Well, I like to think that I no longer have cancer since they removed my tumour and I’ve been supporting myself in every natural way possible since and that the rest is just extra insurance! But I suppose the medical establishment would say otherwise.

How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?

I had been repressing things emotionally for a long time, for my whole life really, and upon diagnosis realized that all the ways this impacts your life on so many levels is greatly to blame for my illness. So I began a journey of self-discovery and am learning how to change previous beliefs I had about myself and my worth and my place in this world as a spiritual being. I also take even better care of myself physically than I did before (with vitamins, supplements, a return to my yoga which had lapsed somewhat), I practice meditation and visualization, I have seen a naturopath and plan to begin seeing an acupuncturist and I am receiving counseling to name a few!

What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?

There were probably two: learning how to accept help from others, and wondering if I will ever be able to have a child. We were just starting to think seriously about trying to conceive before this happened.

What is/was the best part of your challenge?

Being given the opportunity to wake up and really see my life for what it is and make improvements. Without this big reality check, I probably would have continued on as I was, not fully and wholly living.

What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?

I am motivated by the fact that I have so much ahead of me to look forward to and can’t wait to get on with it! I can’t wait to continue renovating my new house with my AMAZING husband who is truly my best friend and for us to eventually begin a family and experience all life has to offer.

What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?

You cannot deny your past; all aspects of our being are so intimately connected that dysfunction in one area inevitably leads to dysfunction in another. We can’t ignore our bodies, minds or spirits. They will demand our attention if we do not offer it willingly.

What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?

I don’t think my thoughts on my illness have changed since diagnosis. I have however had to make some concessions related to it (I’m having chemo, which I was originally against). I have had to allow myself to change my mind on issues like this but at the end of the day, I still see my illness as simply a strong message that I need to heed.

What are some (if there are any you know of) preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?

Check your breasts (!) and don’t hesitate to get anything suspicious checked out. And above and beyond the obvious health measures, like diet, exercise, avoidance of environmental toxins, etc (and in particular for breast cancer, maintain healthy body weight, don’t abuse alcohol, eat a low-fat diet, etc), I think anyone wanting to avoid any kind of cancer needs to have a balanced, in-tune view of oneself.

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?

At the Centre for Integrated Healing, I have attended groups and find it very helpful being able to relate to other people in my situation, even though they are generally older. They also gave me a referral to a counselor and I’ve also seen another counselor at the Cancer Agency regarding financial and other general issues. All people in this capacity have been extremely kind and supportive. Even if you have a good family/friend support system, I would highly recommend counseling or support groups. Most of your family and friends won’t really know what you’re going through and although they mean well, can’t offer all facets of support you need.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?

I think I had heard of it somewhere once before but the counselor at the Cancer Agency actually gave me the website. This site is one of the best I’ve seen and I’m so happy to have found it! Young people like us face totally different issues than older people do and it seems like cancer is generally still viewed as an older disease so it’s great for young people to have this resource.