The Women Behind the Ribbon
WHEELING — It was a beautiful, warm July day as then 34-year-old Kyla Morris was dressing to go to work as a registered nurse at Ohio Valley Medical Center. As she was snapping her bra, she felt pain.
Curious, she felt deeper and discovered a small, pea-sized lump.
“There’s no way this could be breast cancer,” Morris thought.
So, she continued on her way to work where she would take care of post-surgical patients as they recovered from their procedures.
Throughout the day, however, Morris had a nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach. She shared her concern with a co-worker who told her that she really needed to see her physician, if to just ease her mind.
“I was offered an appointment at my gynecologist’s office the very next day, but I was thinking that I don’t want to miss work because they will be short-staffed. I didn’t go to the doctor for a couple of days,” Morris said. “A week later, I finally saw my OB-GYN. He was concerned and sent me for testing.”
And then came the diagnosis for which no woman can ever be prepared: Morris was told she had triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma. She had never had a mammogram — she was only 34, well below the standard guidelines for mammography recommendations.
Then, Morris began learning about her disease. Invasive ductal carcinoma, sometimes called infiltrating ductal carcinoma, is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for about 80 percent of all cases.
On a scale of one to three, triple-negative breast cancer often is grade 3 and is usually is a cell type called “basal-like.” This means the cells resemble the basal cells that line the breast ducts. Basal-like cancers tend to be more aggressive, higher grade cancers — just like triple-negative breast cancers, according to breastcancer.org.
Ultimately, Morris’s treatment needed to be aggressive, as well. Within months, she underwent a total mastectomy in which the surgeon removed the entire breast and the lining of the chest muscle. Morris then went through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Eventually, she had total breast reconstruction.
Today, Morris is a thriving 37-year-old breast cancer survivor who gets to “pay it forward” every day. That’s because she now uses her knowledge and skills to help other patients diagnosed with cancer as one of OVMC’s Cancer Center Oncology Nurse Navigators.
Morris works alongside a woman who was and still is her greatest champion — a woman who is also an oncology nurse navigator at OVMC, and is herself a breast cancer survivor. That woman is 64-year-old Jane Kessler, who has battled breast cancer not once, but three times since first being diagnosed in 2004. She had a partial mastectomy and underwent chemotherapy and radiation.
Kessler says working with Morris has made a positive difference in both of their lives.
“We are stronger because we found our strength in one another. Because it’s not breast cancer,” Kessler said. “This was my breast cancer and it’s their breast cancer. It was Kyla’s breast cancer. And if I can help a patient get through the journey called breast cancer by sharing my firsthand experience … it’s a very good thing.”
Kessler believes that some things happen for a reason. She says she was meant to meet Morris and travel this journey with her.
Advocating and treating not only breast cancer patients each day, but all cancer patients.
“More than believing in fate — I live it every day with Kyla. Whenever someone is fighting ‘their’ cancer, there has to be an advocate,” Kessler said. “There has to be an advocate that is dedicated to them through thick and thin, that will help them figure it out. … We are here for the patients — we advocate for the patients. We were one of the patients.”
For more information on The Cancer Center at OVMC, go to ovmc-eorh.com or call 304-234-0123.