In June of 2015, I was diagnosed with Paget’s Disease, a very rare form of breast cancer. The day I received the biopsy results, I screamed and cried in private, then went straight to Todd. His face is something I’ll never forget: We walked into the first meeting with Dr. Charles Scarborough and, before the doctor could start talking, Todd asked when we could schedule surgery.
Todd’s number one priority was to do whatever was necessary to keep me around, and that strength and fortitude gave me the attitude I needed to put my big girl pants on and aggressively attack treatment. I had a senior in high school and all three of my children needed their Mama.
With both of my parents suffering health issues of their own at the time, my sister Lane was my rock. She was by my side from day one, and she never left. Our close relationship became even closer when both of our parents passed away last year. I couldn’t do life without her, literally.
With no family in town, my friends stepped up and became the family and support system we needed. Kathy Stenslie, a physical therapist with HPRC, rehabilitated me post-surgery so I could compete in Dancing Stars of Columbus in honor of my mother, who passed from Alzheimer’s. Kathy started off as part of my medical team, but she’s now a lifetime friend. My dear friend Kim Hudgins practically moved into our home for two weeks, taking care of me during the day so Todd could go to work.
Being diagnosed in a city where we had no family caused us to think and pray long and hard about where to pursue treatment. Todd and I explored all options and decided to stay in Columbus for my treatment. Best decision we ever made. Because of the rarity of my disease, experts from medical centers around the country were consulted regarding treatment. Suzie Westerlund guided me to Dr. Scarborbough and the St. Francis Breast Center – I will forever be grateful for the entire team that helped me through the process. Todd and I will be cheerleaders and supporters of the John B. Amos Cancer Center as long as we live in Columbus.
You might be surprised to hear me say that there was a silver lining to my diagnosis, but it’s true. I believe that God has a higher purpose for me, and it’s becoming clearer by the day: numerous times I’ve been contacted by friends who have friends with recent diagnoses who need someone to talk to and perhaps offer a little advice. It’s been the honor of my life to support these women, even if we’ve never met. While I would never want to go through this again, what a blessing it has been to become part of a valiant sisterhood, and to welcome others into the fold.
Where am I now, three years later? Enjoying every single second of our son Briggs’s senior year. Tek is very happy as a Columbus State student, and our daughter LiLi is a smart, beautiful, spunky 7th grader. I am so blessed to be able to work with our family businesses on a regular basis, and that, along with substitute teaching, is something I truly love to do.
Our lives are full of unexpected blessings, and what a joy it is to uncover each and every one. I feel closer to the Columbus community than I ever dreamed possible: it’s become an annual tradition for me to share a table with strong women touched by breast cancer at the October luncheon. Additionally, our businesses – Chick-fil-A Bradley Park and Chick-fil-A Columbus Park Crossing – have both become involved in the fight for a cure through the donation of profits from cookie sales in the month of October.
Being diagnosed with cancer changed my life: it was a horrible, scary time, but my sister and my friends brought me through it. My wish is for everyone diagnosed to have that same experience. Medical research is getting closer and closer to a cure every day. The amount of money it takes for daily research is astronomical – but we are in the position to help! Let’s double-down on our efforts to assist the medical community, to support local doctors and treatment centers, and to continue building a supportive community.
My experience helped me turn away from the natural vanity of life and made me realize what truly matters. My scars tell my story, and I’m proud of that. Join Todd and me at the Crystal Ball on March 9 – come find me, let’s share a hug, and tell me your story.
Traci Abbott Kalish
For more than 100 years, The American Cancer Society has been leading the fight to end cancer. With your support, we have helped usher in an era where more people survive cancer than ever before. By translating our research findings into action, we've seen a 20% decline in US cancer death rates since the early 1990s.
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