'There is light at the end of the tunnel,' says Middletown oncology nurse who became breast cancer survivor

·4 min read

Oct. 17—For Kelly Huntey, an oncology nurse at Atrium Medical Center's outpatient infusion treatment center, it was supposed to be a routine 3-D mammogram.

Huntey, 54, started getting breast exams 19 years ago and there was no reason to believe the result of this mammogram would be alarming.

But the mammogram in late March showed a spot on her right breast. The Monroe resident has fibrocystic breast disease so she was used to having cysts and calcium deposits show up on her mammograms.

She met with the radiologist who reviewed the film and asked him, "Does this look like a calcification like I've had before?"

He leaned forward in his chair and answered: "Like nothing whatsoever."

That's not what she expected to hear.

"He shocked me a little bit," Huntey said.

She immediately had a breast biopsy that confirmed she had ductal carcinoma in situ, meaning cancer cells were lining the milk ducts of her right breast, although they hadn't spread into surrounding tissue.

Huntey's breast surgical oncologist, Dr. Selyne Samuel, presented two clear options: have a lumpectomy and follow-up radiation therapy to prevent the cancer from coming back, or have a mastectomy to remove breast tissue in one or both breasts, with no follow-up radiation or chemotherapy.

Samuel said when she meets with patients, she talks about the stage of their cancer and let's them decide the best treatment options, though she pushes them toward the most preferred plan.

After consulting with Samuel, Huntey figured that getting a double mastectomy would relieve the pain and annoyance of her fibrocystic condition and any lingering doubts that the cancer wouldn't return, she said.

She knew that due to her very dense breast tissue and grade of her cancer, a lumpectomy would mean twice-a-year monitoring of her remaining breast tissue, which she thought would heighten her own fears of a cancer recurrence.

She chose a double mastectomy in early June and the persistent fibrocystic pain has disappeared. She has no more worries about mammograms or needing a biopsy.

"It wasn't a hard decision for me," she said last week while sitting in the courtyard at Atrium Medical Center.

Five weeks after surgery, Huntey returned to the outpatient infusion treatment center where she has worked for five years. She thanked all her co-workers for their support during her diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

"Happy as a clam" is how she described her life.

She came back with a new compassion and appreciation for her patients. Now when she talks to cancer patients, she sometimes incorporates her own experiences. As a cancer survivor, her advice seems more credible, she said.

"You can come out the other end," she said of battling cancer. "There is light at the end of the tunnel."

Now her priorities have changed, but maybe not where you think. She doesn't need to take lavish vacations, buy new clothes or a sports car.

Instead she wants to spend more time with her husband, Dennis, their children and grandchildren and her mother, Jewell, 74, who lives in Bucyrus, Ohio.

She was asked about any life lessons she has learned this year. She never had been asked that question, she said.

"I'm more resilient than I thought," she said. "That's the word. Not tougher. More resilient. There are no options other than going forward. You can't call a timeout."

There was a pause as Huntey looked around the courtyard, then down at her body.

"I've gained more than I've lost," she said.

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HOW TO SCHEDULE A MAMMOGRAM

Upcoming mobile mammography stops in Butler County include:

—9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Nov. 3, Monroe Medical Center, 35 Overbrook Drive, Monroe

—9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Nov. 12, Trenton Family Medicine, 3590 Busenbark Road, Trenton

—10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Nov. 13, MidPointe Library -Trenton, 200 Edgewood Drive

—8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 24, Atrium Medical Center Imaging, 4214 Grand Ave., Middletown

Schedule a mobile mammogram by calling 855-887-7364. For more information about the process and locations, visit www.premierhealth.com/mobilemammo or email MobileMammo@premierhealth.com.

WHAT: Cancer Support Group

WHEN: 4-5 p.m. third Tuesday of every month

WHERE: Atrium Medical Center, Classroom 5A on the fifth floor of the Professional Building, 200 Medical Center Drive, Middletown.

WHAT HAPPENS: A typical meeting offers an opportunity to share and connect with others and guest speakers on topics such as community resources, exercise, nutrition, and diagnosis and treatment updates.

MORE INFO: 513-974-6873

About the Author

Rick McCrabb

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