This past November we had the honor of hearing Kami’s story when she spoke at the DSCF 12th Annual “Thanks for Giving” Gala Charity Event. Thank you Kami for letting us share your story.
Kami's Speech 11/12/2022
Good evening ladies and gentlemen! My name is Kami Rivera. I'm a 38 year old cancer survivor!!
I WAS a stage three metastatic breast cancer patient last year.
My journey started by finding a lump on October 13th, 2021. For the record, I've faithfully done monthly breast exams since I was a teenager. I was in a friends wedding on 10/8/21 and did one that day. I wore a strapless dress at her wedding (Andrea Pinkham and Joseph Pinkham) and there was nothing there! I worked the Wednesday after the wedding and I'm thankful that that night, I pulled a chest muscle (The Tarratine). That is what caused the tumor to pop out, be seen and felt for the first time... Yes, seen! You could see it with your naked eye, it was the size of half of a grape. It was not visible though in my mammogram! It was not until the ultrasound that they saw it. It was already over 3 cm. I read my pathology report on November 1, 2021. I was alone at my house when I discovered I had cancer. My sister was my first call, she lives 3.4 miles from my house. I wanted her to confirm what the report said before causing any panic to the rest of my family and my brand new husband. She confirmed it, the rest of the day was filled with disbelief, silence, crying, calling my family, being angry, calling doctors, being confused, depressed, frustrated, scared and yet hopeful. My treatments started on December 17, last year at New England Cancer Specialists and I heard cancer free on this past September 20, 2022!!
It was a 10 month journey from diagnosis to cancer free. The fast track version for you all! Chemo, double mastectomy, radiation, oral target chemo, hormone therapy and I'll have one more final surgery for reconstruction this upcoming winter!
I'll never forget that on November 2, 2021, I shared this to facebook... I said "People get cancer, and I'm now part of that statistic. Stage 3 breast cancer" And what came after that post was something so beautiful that not even cancer could ruin it. Outpouring amounts of love, support, inspirational quotes and stories, new friends that are part of this "C" club that we're willing to share their experiences and tricks for making the experience less awful, fundraisers, volunteers for farm chores and immediate shifts being covered at work.
There have been a lot of people that say "You're brave for sharing your journey, I fought it silently because that's what worked for me"
Well, I have always found that people are a source of my strength. I see that as a collaborative group, we can accomplish more than we ever can alone! I shared my journey, as I still am, and forever going to, because of those lone fighters! If we all fight silently, how would we achieve knowledge, solidarity and hope?
For me, I needed all of the help I could get for myself and my family! I'm still here, surviving because of the help I received along the way. Nobody can read my mind, but they sure could read what I was willing to share
The cancer is not just abnormal growing cells in the body, it caused abnormalities in my emotions to all normal things in my life. The people I love, my jobs, my health, our future...
For me and my husband, we had just gotten married at our farm on 6/26/21 and a few months later being plagued with cancer meant testing the strength of our vows "in sickness and in health" and "for richer or poorer" right off the bat. The latter of the two did not necessarily mean finances, but feeling as though time was now our most meaningful commodity. So being a new wife cashing in on all of the commitments immediately was a bit overwhelming, and at the time, I felt selfish for the things I knew I would need from him.
Not to mention the most gut wrenching decision we had to make in an instant. Babies or no babies. I had an estrogen positive cancer, which meant hormone therapy for IVF was going to put me at a greater risk, not to mention slow down the race against time to stop the growth and spread of the cancer. We chose my life over our common goal discussed on our first date of both being open to children. No kids. And as you sit there reflecting on our situation with ways to solve it, don't. Of course I'm sad, because my husband is a beautiful Puerto Rican man! My heart would have been overjoyed to see what we could have created. But it's our decision and we are ok with it! We recently added a great dane puppy to our household and well, you can't kennel a kid like you can a dog. (Mid Maine Danes)
It's an emotional position to be a daughter with cancer. Watching my mother wish every day that she could take my cancer away and live through it herself instead of having to watch me do it. My response was "there was NO way I'd ever give it away for anyone else to bear, especially to you, mom..."
It's frustrating being a sibling and knowing that for the next few months that they would be watching their youngest sibling fight for her life and be the center of the family's worries when they had their own lives to live.
It was depressing to scale back on three jobs because of appointments here, Boston, Lewiston, Scarborough, etc and advocating for my health! It became a full time job to be a cancer patient!! From three jobs to one! From making money to making sure I'd see the other side of life after cancer.
I'm a small business owner of a farm called Sunny Hill Stable. I taught lessons, took out trail rides, offered riding and yoga retreats, summer camps for kids, boarding and we even made it a possible wedding venue option! I am an office manager for a marine construction company called Maine Coast Marine and I work at the Tarratine in Bangor as a server. The Tarratine was the job where I pulled that muscle that saved my life! I had the world right where I wanted it and it all changed instantly! And there was never any plan mapped out for surviving or affording this thing called cancer.
I wanted to share a bit more about me... I've never smoked anything in my life! I never used recreational drugs. I thought I lived a pretty healthy lifestyle. I shouldn't have gotten cancer based on my genetic testing. Cancer does not discriminate or target bad decisions, its target is anyone at any time for zero reason.
One of the worst parts of this journey for me, was that I exiled myself on what I can only paint in your heads as Cancer Island. You don't know how to get to it unless you have cancer. It's a place where I went because I become different than the people around me. It's a place to grieve, for anger, to handle my fears, but it's a lonely kind of island. I learned that it was the cancer calling me there trying to take control of more of my head space than just the physical space it possesses in my body.
During this diagnosis, I didn't want anyone to feel bad for me. I asked people to feel bad for the cancer, because it didn't stand a chance! Being brave through this was not easy. I tried to balance my own emotions while caring for others emotions. I learned quickly that I couldn't do both. I had to stay true to my emotions first, and that was a very new concept.
Cancer sucks to live through. I think it sucks equally to watch the ones you love go through it having limited ways to make it easier on them. The treatments, The surgery, The radiation, The chemo drug I'm on for two years if I can make it, and Hormone therapy all suck. The next surgery will in fact, suck! However, they are all necessary! So like a good patient, I showed up early to my appointments and I tried to not make it suck for the people working to keep me alive.
And the quality of my life looks good from where you sit right, thank you to my hairdresser and this sweet dress, but I assure you, this is not the body I had before cancer. I didn't understand real pain, what arthritis is, or have huge scars across my chest. My body did what I wanted it to before, and now I have restrictions. I could work from sun up to sun down without much rest, that is not the case anymore. My resting heart health has changed. I had boobs before, and I thought I'd be sad losing them, but considering they were trying to kill me, I was ok watching them go. However, I'll never have feeling there again.
But as much as the process tried to break me down, there is a fire within that kept me wanting to live, to fight and to survive... And attitude and laughter were my two favorite medicines.
We live in a little town called Frankfort, Me. I am about 2 hours away from here. I ended up at New England Cancer Specialists because my oncologist at Dana Farber said they were the only ones in Maine that he recommended going to for treatment. Mind you, there's an affiliated partner in Brewer about 25 minutes from my house. One thing I found to be true, is that you listen to your oncologist. So treatments being hard enough, now we add in winter travel for 2 hours,each way, every other week, gas, time off, hotel stays if travel conditions were terrible, vehicle maintenance and meals. On the home front, we have the horses, so it meant finding farm help at home, not always the free kind.
And this was when the Dean Snell Cancer Foundation found me!
This foundation exists for patients like me. I needed help with affording care two hours away from my home, gas prices soared, and hotels during the winter are way cheaper than the same rooms in the summer here! Thank you Tourism! It was great to know I could reach out as I needed to and not feel ashamed for it. This organization started because of love and it continues to grow because of love.
There's a shame we feel as patients feel for having cancer and feeling as though we are a burden every time we ask for help. The foundation and New England Cancer Specialists never made me or my family feel embarrassed for taking the help. I am grateful to have had access to this foundation. They made me feel normal for needing help. They genuinely wanted to alleviate any stress so that I could heal. At times, they sounded more like family than they did from my medical or financial support team.
I want to give back by being up here to say that I was not obligated to talk about their help they gave me. I'm mentioning it because it's honor to be up here informing you all on how it worked for me. It was easy, it's prideful, and its healing strength goes beyond the dollars.
So I want to start close with a few of my thoughts of cancer being inside and outside of my body. In order to get rid of the literal cancer from within, I had to remove it from my body. And not surprisingly, it works metaphorically. I found that I had to look around my island and find ways to build my own boat, paddle and find energy to bring myself back to the main land of life. My communication needed to be clear, my losses had to become my lessons, my wins had to be celebrated and the more I committed to a better mindset and a healthy lifestyle the further cancer-like qualities started moving from my normal every day routine. All of a sudden, that dark draw to cancer island stopped. I never looked back.
We, my husband, my family and my best friends didn't get a choice about me getting cancer, but we were grateful that we got a choice on how we move through it. People get cancer, and it's the community we surround ourselves with that help get us through it.
So let's make tonight one to remember and Let's have a bit of fun. I challenge you all you "up the ante" for the sake of cancer!
I dare you to raise the bids on the items you want, but not for the item but for people fighting cancer. People like me. The funds from this foundation matter, and they make it easy to receive.
So your task tonight is to give what you want to give to win those awesome items! Have fun out there! But please take this with you... There are zero losers here tonight! So if you wanted an item and you didn't win it... take your "losing bid" and donate that even without your item. This just means that you will help someone win in their battle against the hardest war in their life! (The foundation is ALWAYS ACCEPTING DONATIONS, so if you want to help, consider them!)
Please raise your glasses for a toast to the Dean Snell Cancer Foundation and New England Cancer Specialists for their generosity and their genuine ability to make a difference in patients lives.
Salute! Cheers! And thank you all for listening! (Reading in your case!) Have a great evening!