My name is Kelly Proudfit. I am 40 years old. I live in Michigan. I live here with my partner Jason, and we have a four-year-old daughter. We both worked full-time and lived pretty everyday lives until two years ago.
I have a little bit of a non-traditional cancer story. I had found a lump on my chest 15 years ago. While taking a necklace off one night, my hand chafed a little hard area on my chest. I thought to myself, has that always been there? What is this? I did not know what it was. My mom did not know what it was. After a doctor examined it the next day, I was told it was harmless bony cartilage overgrowth that would recede over time. No treatment is required until it starts hurting or becomes noticeably more prominent. Two more doctors examined it a few years later, including my gynecologist, and they were not concerned about it. I went on my way for 13 years until August 2019, when everything fell apart, and I was diagnosed with a Grade 1 Chondrosarcoma.
In August 2019, my lump started constantly hurting while on vacation with my family. It was throbbing, aching pain and had grown a little bigger. After consulting with my current doctor, I was asked to get X-rays done. By the woman’s demeanor who took my X-rays, I could tell that there was a problem. About 10 hours later, I was told by my doctor to rush to the ER to have additional images taken immediately. When I finally got into the exam room, I was told it was malignant neoplasm, and they did not know what kind it was or in what stage it was. I needed an oncology referral immediately. After getting the results of my CT scan and bone marrow biopsy, I was diagnosed with a Grade 1 Chondrosarcoma.
How did you face it?
I have a fantastic partner, Jason. He’s very stoic, reasonable and calm. That helped me out in these stressful moments. I also have a twin sister, Katie. Both of them helped me get through it. At times, I had an absolute breakdown. I would scream in the exam room, “I can’t die. Please, somebody, help me!”. I have a two-year-old daughter. I could not have done it without them. It was such a universe shift for me the whole time. After waiting 13 days for those results, I remember walking out of the hospital that day, thinking nothing’s ever going to be the same. Like I was grieving my previous life immediately because of that trauma.
Choices during the treatment
My tumor ended up being low grade, and the excellent news with low-grade tumors is that they move very slowly, but the bad news is that my type of cancer, which is Chondrosarcoma cancer starts in the cartilage of your bones, and it is resistant to
chemotherapy. An ideal situation would be to catch the tumour and then surgically eradicate it. Because if it metastasizes, chemotherapy won’t work. Before I went for my surgery, my oncologist told me that I would need proton radiation if he didn’t get it all. As of now, I have not had any chemotherapy. I am doing scans right now and will need proton radiation in the future.
My family was my support system. My sister started a GoFundMe page, and at first, I was mortified because I didn’t want to ask for help. But that page proliferated. People were excellent, helpful and supportive. It was overwhelming; it helped so much as I had never felt so loved and supported like that before. Kindness, generosity and love lit up the darkest days in my life, especially in the beginning. I found love and support from people online. I made some good friends now who also have chondrosarcoma, and I’m grateful for giving me some unique connections with people in the same situation.
Your expectations after diagnosis
I thought that after you treat cancer, whether it’s surgery or chemotherapy or radiation, you go on with life and that cancer is behind you. But about 12 months after my extensive surgery, I started struggling badly with my horrible anxiety. I was constantly in pain. I was sure that it came back and has now spread. The most challenging part for me is dealing with the PTSD, stress and anxiety afterwards. I thought I was going crazy, and finally, I was set up with an oncology stress management program. It has been excellent. I talk to a counselor twice a month right now. It is important to set something like that up right away, even if you think you’ll be fine once you’re done with treatment or surgery. It has helped me tremendously, and two years ago, after my surgery, I would have never thought that I needed that kind of mental health help. I’ve learned now to expect PTSD. Just go with those feelings and expect them. It’s normal. You are not going to be like that for life. That’s been an extensive learning experience for me.
Importance of self-examination
I found that lump myself as a young, dumb and 21-year-old kid. I called my mom and got it checked by a general practitioner. But if that had happened today and I was still 21 years old, there is an endless source of information out there on social media to look up to. You can learn more about the people fighting cancer, and you can see their stories. It was not possible 15 years ago. I was lucky that my cancer didn’t spread anywhere, and I got it out. The quicker you act, the more chances you have of curing it. Don’t just sit out in pain, ache or if something is incorrect because of your fear of doctors. Don’t just think it’s not going to be anything. Mine could have been awful, but I was lucky it did not spread anywhere. It bothers me to think how long that sat in my body, and it didn’t go anywhere. You have to take charge of your own body. You have to start listening to your body.
Any lifestyle changes during the treatment
I committed to my mental health. Initially, I was terrified to have my first counseling session as it was uncomfortable. Many people are like that, but today is a significant achievement. As far as lifestyle changes, I am living healthier now than ever in my entire life. Knowing that cancer is rare with no known definitive causes, I just figured out to take care of myself as best as possible, to be as healthy as possible with my diet. I stay active; I work out five days a week and teach my four-year-old daughter some suitable lessons. That’s one good thing that has come out of it.
What kept me positive during the journey
My counselling has helped me immensely, along with staying active physically. Before I started my medication for PTSD and counselling, I was struggling mental health-wise with nervousness, anxiety and stress about cancer coming back. But getting myself a workout, I felt better. For just a little bit of time, it would push those nerves down. Today, staying active is my number one priority. I realized how exercise helps you tackle depression and anxiety. I work out regularly, I take antidepressants and counselling with my oncology counsellor has been hugely beneficial.
Lessons during the Cancer Journey
I always tell people that I once thought that problems are not problems anymore. I am tenfold happier now today than I was two years ago. When I was diagnosed with bone cancer, initially, nobody knew what kind it was, what type it was or what grade it was, which felt like a death sentence. I instantaneously thought I
I would die soon, and after the dust settled when my surgery was done, I realized that life is so good, and there’s so much here that I took for granted. I complained about putting gas in my car or being tired in the morning. Now I don’t complain as much, and every day I am just happy to wake up and be here. I took all of that for granted before this.
Grateful in life
I am so thankful to my body. Sometimes, I am shocked and taken aback that the tumor sat there for so long and didn’t go anywhere. I am amazed at my body and how it survived the surgery and such a brutal recovery. I’ve never been through something like that, and I’m just so grateful to be here, to have air in my lungs and to be able to raise a child. I would complain about having a headache or having sore muscles, but those aren’t problems I am concerned about today. I am just lucky growing old. It is such a privilege to be here. I am so grateful for the team that treated me at the clinic. They were terrific, and they treated me so kindly. Beating that cancer could not have been possible for me without them, and it made a big difference, so I am grateful for that as well.
Parting Message to Cancer Survivors
I would say that things will get better. Even if you have a long rough road ahead of you with chemotherapy, it will contact you better. You’re not going to die at this moment, and there’s a whole lot of life left in you. There’s a whole lot of fighting to do. When I was given that diagnosis, it just felt like somebody was leading me to my death. It felt like somebody was walking me to the gallows; it was time to die. But that’s not it, and it will feel like that initially, but it does get better. It does, and the support system that you surround yourself with, let them support you, let people help you. Know when you are in crisis and let your loved ones help you. Before this, I avoided taking help, but I relinquished that pride after diagnosis and let people help me. It made the experience much better, and it felt so good to have people care and join your fight.
The pivotal moment in my life was that day when I was diagnosed in the ER. For both good and bad reasons, that diagnosis did a permanent switch in my brain. I now see things more clearly, and with the appreciation, I have for life. That was a paradigm shift for me. It changed everything. Some of it was for the bad as I found myself instantly grieving my previous life where I didn’t worry about this. When you have cancer, you worry a lot in the beginning about if it’s going to come back. What are this ache and pain? I was grieving that life before this where I was aloof and ignorant. I wasn’t worried about cancer. After a cancer diagnosis, it’s part of your life now, almost forever. At first, I was just so angry, and I was grieving the loss of this precious innocent life without cancer. It took some time to work through that grief, but that gave me a lot of suitable life lessons.
An Act of Kindness in Life
I was in the hospital for two weeks after my surgery, and a friend of mine who lived hours away surprised me and showed up there in one of the worst moments of my hospital stay. It was horrible, and I was in excruciating pain; I was miserable, lonely and scared. Someone familiar whom you know and loves just showing up there and supporting you is a great act of kindness. It meant the world to me. I will never forget those who reached out in the smallest of ways that will stick with me forever. She drove for hours, and when she popped her head around the corner of my hospital room, I broke down crying because it was such an emotional moment for me.
How do you feel more positive
I feel positive now because of my lessons. One moment you feel like your world is burning down; you feel like you’re being led to your death. Like right now, you’re going to die, and once that is all settled, once I had my surgery, I realized how strong I was. We don’t give ourselves enough credit. This journey has proven to me that the brain and body can get through terrible trauma just with the help of sheer will.
Things you appreciate and love about yourself
I am an empathetic person. I hate seeing somebody sad; I hate seeing somebody hurting. I want to share that pain with them. If you are going through something difficult, I want to go through it with you. I was hoping you could give me some of that weight to carry for you. I will take it with you, and we can do it together. It’s one of the vital characteristics I have, possible only after beating cancer. I probably wouldn’t have said that before all this because I never recognized it. But now that I have some friends who are going through cancer right now, too, it’s never been more clear to me that I can feel their pain. I know their pain, and I don’t want their hearts to break alone. I don’t want them to feel like it’s time to die and you’re alone. This sensibility of mine is another good that came out of this journey.
Things on your bucket list that you did post-recovery
I just ate many carbohydrates. I didn’t have time to make a bucket list, but I enjoyed eating all kinds of food. Some people watch out for medical dietary reasons, but I went to town and ate sweets and bread.
How do you relax?
I read a lot. Also, for many people, including me, who deal with cancer, staying active as much as possible is helpful. Some people who are going through cancer, if they sit around, start searching recurrence rates for chondrosarcoma or survival rates for chondrosarcoma and end up stressed. So staying active such as taking a leisurely walk around the block and getting their heart rate up and blood moving makes a huge difference. If you visit active, you’ll feel better, but I never took my mental health seriously until all of this happened.
Managing your personal and professional life
I worked full-time during my diagnosis. There was a 13-day window between when they did the bone biopsy and when the results came in. That was just like hell on earth. It felt like an eternity and 13 days was just so ridiculously long. I was hanging by a thread at work. I didn’t tell anyone; I was so busy with work and buried. It just felt like I am going to have a psychotic breakdown. I couldn’t handle the stress that I was under right then. I just barely balanced those. I found out, though, for those 13 days, I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. Even when I learned that, I still didn’t tell people after my diagnosis for a couple of weeks. After I got my official diagnosis, I started telling people, which helped me. I felt inherently private about it at first, but I started feeling better after telling them. It’s cathartic to say to others and get this weight off, but in the beginning, I did not balance it very well. I wish I could have balanced it a little better.
Stigmas attached to cancer and the importance of awareness
I learned early on about that as far as the stigma goes. People diagnosed with cancer their friends instinctively want to ask what’s your diagnosis, your prognosis, are you going to die, do you need chemotherapy. I had a lot of people in the beginning who said, “Oh! Do you have cancer? My aunt died of breast cancer or Oh! Do you have cancer? I don’t have it in my immediate family, but my cousin died of colon cancer.” I don’t know if it’s so much a stigma but be careful what you say to cancer patients in the beginning. I would rather have people say like, “You got this? What can we do to help you? Or okay, let’s kick this cancer! or let’s do it”. Sometimes you can’t see a sickness. Not everyone goes through active chemotherapy. You’re not going to see the effects physically on someone, but that doesn’t mean that they’re healthy inside.
Your Cancer journey in one sentence
Things will get better. Yeah, that’s it. Things will get better. It is not going to feel like hell forever. It’s not going to handle this awful. It will pass. You will feel better.
Your thoughts on zenonco.io and integrated oncology
It is incredible. It’s unbelievable because 15 years ago when I found this lump, if I had pushed to have a cancer diagnosis, I would never have found an organization’s support like this. They did not exist. The second I got home from the ER after my bone biopsy, I got online. I looked for helpful resources related to terminal cancer, chondrosarcoma, recovery etc., which was incredibly difficult to find. I can’t even put into words how much it helps to have organizations out there like yours, especially in the darkest moments. After a diagnosis, people can connect to others who are going through the same thing and professionals for additional support. It’s amazing.