Two-year cancer battle
EAGLE ” For Eagle resident Kim Anderson, the Relay for Life cancer research fundraiser is personal.
Anderson, now 27, was a young newlywed three years ago when she noticed she wasn’t feeling well. Then, she suddenly gained 30 pounds.
“I’m in the medical field,” said Anderson, who works the Vail Valley Medical Center. “I thought there was something wrong, so I had friends at work check it out.”
Her co-workers found a few nodules ” small masses of irregular shape ” on her thyroid gland. They told her to keep her eye on them, and they would go from there.
Anderson, who lived in Nebraska at the time, got a job as a traveling MRI technician.
“I was all over the U.S. for two years, and I just kind of forgot about it,” she said.
Two years later, her mom reminded her to go back to check on her thyroid.
The few nodules found in the front part of Anderson’s neck two years prior had taken over Anderson’s thyroid gland. She had two new nodules on her right side.
The three that had originally been on the left side had tripled in size. Doctors diagnosed her with cancer, and told her to schedule surgery within the week.
Anderson’s first reaction was that of someone in the medical field.
“I took notes, asked what I needed to do, and figured out what the plan of attack was.” It wasn’t until Anderson had to use the words out loud to tell her husband, Jason, what she had learned, that it sunk in.
“I thought, ‘Oh, wow. This is really cancer, and that is a scary word,'” she said.
By this time, the Andersons had been married for almost three years. “He just kind of froze, and gave me a hug. We hugged for about five minutes, but it felt like an eternity,” Anderson said.
Anderson and her husband drove to her mom’s house to inform her. Cancer was no stranger to Anderson’s family either. Anderson’s grandmother and uncle had both died from cancer. “I had a pretty strong family connection to it,” she said.
Her mom, Marcia, a widow, was devastated.
“All I could think of was that she hasn’t had a chance yet,” said Marcia Anderson. “This can’t be happening.”
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer develops when cells in a certain part of the body begin to grow out of control.
The thyroid gland, located in the front part of the neck, cannot be seen or felt in most people. The thyroid gland makes a hormone that feeds off iodine and helps regulate metabolism.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 1,500 people in the United States will die of thyroid cancer this year. And while this type of cancer is one of the least deadly, the process to rid it from cells is difficult to endure.
Anderson underwent multiple surgeries and radiation. To remove the cancerous cells, the doctor had to make an incision across the front of her neck.
Researchers have found that one way to treat thyroid cancer is to kill the cells off by swallowing radioactive medicine.
The cancerous cells in Anderson’s thyroid had been feeding off the iodine in Anderson’s body. In preparation, Anderson embarked on a strict diet of absolutely no iodine for one month before taking the medication.
“I could only eat non-packaged, organic foods,” Anderson said, with a sigh.
The diet made the cells starve for iodine. So when Anderson took the radioactive iodine pill, the cancerous cells gobbled it up.
After Anderson swallowed the radioactive pills in the hospital, she began to radiate. She had to leave through the back door so she wouldn’t have contact with other patients.
“I was warm to the touch, the car even got warm when I got in it,” Anderson said. “I was radiating that small of an area in that small amount of time.”
She went into isolation for an entire week. Luckily, she and her husband had an extra room in their house, so she could stay at home. While Jason attended to every detail, ensuring she had everything she needed, Anderson still remembers it being like “some weird jail.”
Jason would leave a plate at her door and then go back downstairs so Anderson could open the door to get the food.
“My husband was so sweet,” she said. “He’d always sit in the hallway and talk to me through the door.”
Anderson could only use plastic silverware, had to flush three times after using the restroom and throw away nearly everything she used.
“Whatever I touched was radiated,” she said.
While in isolation, Anderson had ice around her neck 24 hours a day to reduce swelling and maintain her breathing. She had to drink gallons of water to flush her system.
“Every hour, I had to go to the restroom, because if the radiation sat in my organs for too long, it would burn through them,” Anderson said. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep.”
“It’s funny because you don’t have enough energy to lift your arm up, let alone walk across the room,” she said. “You feel lethargic, even blinking feels like it takes too much effort. You don’t want to move. Everything just exhausts you.”
From the very start, Anderson was determined to rise above the challenge. “If I felt like I couldn’t do it, I made myself,” she said.
Anderson’s mother remembers sitting in the hallway talking to her daughter. “She was always making jokes,” Marcia said. “When she was the sickest, she was the strongest.”
It has been just more than three years since Anderson was first diagnosed, and now she is in the clear.
“I beat it within two years,” Anderson said, smiling. “That’s pretty invaluable.”
Ask Anderson how she did it, and she will give you two simple answers: Cancer research and her attitude.
“I think recovery is 80 percent attitude,” she said. “Whenever I felt sick, I made myself get up and do something.”
“She refused to admit she was weak,” her mother said. “She got up each day and set her alarm, and made herself stay busy. She was always bubbly and happy.”
Anderson credits the cancer experience to “waking her up.” One night while Anderson was staying at the hospital, she woke up at 3 a.m., to see her husband sleeping uncomfortably on a chair next to her.
“I realized I wanted to spend more time with him,” she said. “I wanted to come home to him.”
Anderson and her husband moved to Eagle in October 2004.
“I always wanted to live in Colorado, so I thought, you know, ‘You only live once,'” she said.
Within three days, the Anderson and her husband had each found jobs and a house in Eagle. “We love it,” Anderson said. “It’s a change from Nebraska, but a good one.”
Anderson continued: “I look at life so differently. Now, I look at what I can get done in life.”
Anderson thanks cancer research for much of her recovery. She joined forces with the American Cancer Society to put together their annual Relay for Life in Eagle.
“If we didn’t have continued cancer research, there is no way I would have been able to beat this,” she said.