- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2016

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - This month marks 10 years since the small, cancerous lump in Kathi Morgan’s right breast was removed.

She considers herself one of the lucky ones - her cancer was found early, treated immediately and she’s been free from the disease since.

Cancer’s tendrils had wrapped around Morgan’s family for generations. Both of Morgan’s grandmothers were diagnosed with breast cancer in their 50s, when an awareness of, and effective treatments for, the disease were not as prevalent as today.

Then there was her mother, diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in 2002, and the microscopic tumors eventually made their way into her back. Then in 2004, Morgan’s mother was diagnosed with massive breast cancer.

Then came her older sister’s diagnosis of breast cancer at age 50.

“She said, ‘You girls, are you getting checked?’ I knew I had but my oldest sister hadn’t,” Morgan said. “She went because of my mom.”

In March 2006, Morgan’s mother died, and her father died of cancer five years later.

Just a few months after her mother’s death, as her family gathered for Father’s Day, Morgan noticed a lump in her right breast. Her annual exam was set for August, so she wasn’t concerned.

Due to her family history, Morgan received her mammograms at the Breast Imaging Center at Virginia Baptist Hospital. As she sat down to do paperwork that August day, she wrote she had found a small lump.

After a mammogram and an ultrasound, the doctor asked Morgan to point out the lump as it wasn’t reflected in the scans.

“I almost felt a little foolish, but I said ‘OK, this is fine because I have a hair appointment,’” Morgan said.

The doctor repeated the ultrasound and told Morgan she found the lump and believed it to be malignant.

“I felt like at that moment in time the ground opened up beneath me,” she said.

Suddenly, there were many more technicians in the room. Someone asked her if she wanted to call a family member as they set up a needle biopsy. She asked them to cancel her hair appointment. She tried to reach her husband, but he was in a meeting.

The following day, Kathi Morgan learned it was cancer, and “it became a whirlwind. I was inundated with appointments. I remember thinking that’s too many appointments, too fast.”

She turned 50 that year - the second sister of four with breast cancer.

Her husband, Bob Morgan, said one of the hardest parts for his wife was telling their two daughters, who were in their 20s at the time.

“When you are talking about that, in the back of your head is the concept of mortality,” he said, adding his wife wanted to see life milestones for their daughters and grandchildren.

Bob Morgan talked about the conversation, both spoken and unspoken, discussing what to do and how to face this. “And in our own heads, we were having the ‘what if’ conversations: What if I lose my best friend, the love of my life? What if this doesn’t work?”

An MRI showed the cancer was confined to one breast, and a blood test showed Morgan had started menopause.

“So, of course, I’m in menopause,” she said. “It was like a double whammy, almost like some weird trick of Mother Nature. You have to kind of laugh about it at that point.”

Morgan’s cancer, called ductal in situ, is the most common form of breast cancer and hers was estrogen positive, meaning the hormone could signal the cancer cells to grow.

The cancer forms in the milk ducts of the breast, but has not spread to surrounding tissue, according to the American Cancer Society. The cancer is considered non-invasive because it can’t spread outside the breast, but it can go on to become invasive so it requires treatment.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with about one in eight women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives, according to the American Cancer Society. About 40,450 American women will die from breast cancer in 2016.

About 246,660 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, and another 61,000 will be diagnosed with carcinoma in situ, like Morgan, according to estimates from the American Cancer Society. Carcinoma in situ is the earliest form of breast cancer.

Morgan opted for a lumpectomy to remove the cancerous tissue in September 2006 and seven weeks of radiation. In the final days of the radiation, Morgan had developed burns and was going through burn treatments as well.

“I didn’t want to give it the presence to disrupt my life,” Morgan said. “I did fine up until the last week.”

Bob Morgan said his wife fought her way through the crushing fatigue to work every day, only calling in on the final day of her treatment.

“She knew what she wanted the destination to be,” he said. “If you think of it as a journey, you have in mind the destination picked out. You just don’t know if there is a side turn. I think it wasn’t something you would hide from one another, but you always try to mask the bad ‘what if’ feelings, but we talked about it.”

Her treatments were completed just before Christmas 2006, and since that time, her younger sister was diagnosed, again at age 50. That sister opted for a total mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

But the pattern broke with her youngest sister - who hit age 50 and has not been diagnosed with cancer.

After her mother died, one of Morgan’s friends suggested she run an Angels Triathlon in her mother’s memory, and the two had just started training when Morgan learned she had cancer.

“I was more disappointed in that than in anything else,” she said. “That was supposed to be me honoring my mom. When the treatment was done, I called my friend, and said ‘We are doing it.’”

So in April 2007, with her mother’s name written on one arm and her grandmother’s on the other and 62 names from friends and coworkers tucked in her hat, she completed the triathlon in Clemmons, North Carolina.

Morgan now undergoes ultrasounds, mammograms and breast MRIs annually, and said she feels confident the cancer is gone, but if it’s not, it will be caught early.

“Despite all the bad parts, we had the best outcome .” Bob Morgan said.

Kathi Morgan and her husband volunteer with the American Cancer Society, particularly with its annual Gala fundraiser each fall.

For Morgan, discussing her journey is cathartic.

“For me, it was a monster, and to talk about the monster gets it out of the closet,” she said. “Cancer consumed me for a year. It consumed my entire life for a year, and then it just didn’t.”


Information from: The News & Advance, https://www.newsadvance.com/

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