Stories of Perseverance: Kim Stephens

Each year leading a handful of those in the community going through a cancer journey themselves or with a loved one share their story.  These are the people the efforts of Pink Arrow help in the community.  They’re friends and neighbors.  You may not even know how cancer has touched them.  This series of stories are written by the person you will read about or by someone on their behalf.  We thank them for sharing their story and the courage to battle cancer in some way.

If you are interested in volunteering for any upcoming Pink Arrow events please visit these sign-ups and claim a spot or two.  Help sell shirts at Peptalk sign up here.  To help at Community Day on August 17 sign up here.  Volunteer to sell shirts on game day September 8 by signing up here.  And if you’re interested in signing up to donate blood on Community Day select your spot here.  

Photo courtesy of Heather Eveland and is used with permission.  You can visit her photography website and Facebook page for more information.

The following is from Kim Stephens.  She shares her story of how cancer came into her life.

My name is Kim Stephens. I am married to my husband Dan, and we have seven amazing kids.  Never in my life did I think that I would be writing this article.  I never thought this would happen to me.

My story began on January 6, 2016, a day that would forever change my life.   It was a normal day, working, making dinner and running kids. That evening my gut was crampy and feeling like what my kids and I call “bubble gut”, but I really didn’t have time to think about it.  As I headed up the stairs to bed, I started feeling nauseous.  By the time I reached my bathroom, I was feeling dizzy and lightheaded.  I suddenly had a large hemorrhage.  I yelled for help as I felt myself blacking out.  My husband grabbed me and I remember crying and saying to him that I was bleeding really bad , and I was scared because I knew something was wrong.  At that point, I passed out.  As I laid there on the bathroom floor with my husband holding me, my 17yo son Nathan frantically called 911 and tried to explain to them what was going on, even though he had no clue.   I finally came to and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, a place that I knew so well because I had worked there for 28 years.   The ER doctor kept telling us that I had diverticulitis, but I just had a feeling he was wrong.  I was sent home and told to call my doctor in the morning.  The next morning I spent 3 ½ hours on the phone trying to find a physician who was taking new patients. Even after explaining my situation, I was told by one office I could get in at the end of June.   As I sat there frustrated, knowing that I needed to be seen as soon as possible, I felt helpless and scared.  I decided to text a good friend of mine who is a nurse practioner, and I asked her to help me.  I explained what had happened, and she said she would see me the next morning.  I can say that at that moment I was so scared and felt horrible, as I had just lost a huge amount of blood.   Allison was absolutely wonderful; a true friend and a great practioner.  She hugged me and calmed me down, and she said we would work through this together and get it figured out.   She ordered an abdominal  CT scan immediately, blood work and a colonoscopy.  My CT scan came back completely negative!  At this point, I thought, “well maybe it is okay and it’s not as bad as I was thinking”.  I then had a colonoscopy. As I sat in recovery the doctor came in and sat beside me.  I felt a pit in my stomach as I heard him say there were two golf ball sized masses in my colon that were probably malignant, but we would know for sure when the biopsies came back.   I remember crying all the way home, praying he was wrong.  I think the not knowing and waiting was the hardest part.

Four days later, as I was picking my son up from school, I got a phone call from the doctor’s office.   The nurse asked if this was a good time, I remember thinking “no, of course this isn’t a good time”, but I said yes.  And that is the moment that no one wants to ever hear. She said the biopsies had come back and were malignant.  “NO NO NO” kept running through my head as I started sobbing on the phone.  I could hardly breath.  I had Cancer!  Right then, my son got into the car.  My poor baby, I was a mess and he had no idea what was going on.  I finally got it together and told him.  His eyes welled up and he hugged me, telling me it would be ok.  As we sat there, one of the first things that I said to him was you can play for me for Pink Arrow.   That says just how much of an impact Pink Arrow has had on us.  I called my husband telling him the results over the phone. How awful is that to hear at work over the phone.  That night we had to tell our seven kids what you never want to have to tell them, their mom has cancer.    They are the strongest kids I know.  There were tears, but they all told me that WE can do this.  Several days later when my husband and I went to see the surgeon, I felt like I was just going through the motions . I was still in such shock. I had a double colon resection on February 29, 2016. Surgery was long, but went very well and they were able to get everything.  I was so happy, now it was all over and I just needed to recover.  Let me just say that the staff on the GI unit at Blodgett hospital are absolutely the best!  I also had the greatest surgeon ever.   Four days later, as I’m sitting in my hospital room alone, my surgeon walked in with more devastating news.  He told me that some of the lymph nodes were positive.  This meant that the cancer was not gone, and I now was facing chemotherapy.   Once again the tears flowed.  Why was this happening to me?  I know God knows the reasons, but I was really doubting my faith at this time.

I had my port placed on March 28, after I had gained some strength back.  My husband and I met with my Oncologist the next day.  As he explained the type of cancer I had and the treatment he recommended, I was again feeling like I was just going through the motions, again in shock.  We were able to go on our Spring Break vacation the following week.  I was so grateful to be able to get away from all of this and spend time with my family and not have to think so hard about what was coming next.  I then began the first of 12 folfox chemotherapy treatments on April 11.  I would go to the Lemmon-Holton cancer center every other Monday for 4-5 hours of chemo.  When the chemo infusion was done, I was hooked up to a pump and given a stylish fanny pack to wear for the next 2 days.  Then on Wednesdays I would get my pump removed and that is when the nausea really started.  The type of chemo therapy I received created an ultra-sensitivity to cold.  That meant I was not able to eat or drink anything cold, as well as touch anything cold for almost 7months.  It certainly was not an easy summer.  I spent a lot of it sleeping because of the fatigue and nausea.  My family was amazing through every single step.  My kids would not allow me to go to a chemo treatment alone.  They would make sure someone was always there, whether it was one of them or one of my dear friends.  In one of the early treatments, one of my sons and his girlfriend even packed a picnic lunch for us.  My chemo nurse was, and still is amazing.  I still have my port in and have to go every 6-8 weeks to get it flushed. Chemo nurses are very special people, and I truly appreciate what they do.  Sitting in the waiting area of the oncology center really brings it into perspective.  That lobby is always filled.  You quickly realize that you are not alone.  There are so many others going through this journey and many of them were worse off then you.

Anyone that knows me knows how much I LOVE to cook.  Well, when you feel so nauseous all the time that is the very last thing you want to do.  I believe I am one of the luckiest people in the world because of those who surround me.  A good friend of mine, Amy Alberts, set up a meal list for my family during my chemo weeks.  I cannot even begin to explain what this did for my family.  We had so many people take time out of their busy lives to bring meals to our family and it was the best. Thank you does not even cover the appreciation we felt for the meals that were provided.   My husband was busy running kids around and it just made life a lot easier for everyone.  The nausea from chemo is like no other.  The meals would be delivered and I would have to go upstairs because even the smell would make me sick. No thank you could ever show the astounding gratitude I have for those who made food for us.

Moving ahead to September and Pink Arrow 9.  The Pink Arrow game has always held a special place in my heart.  I help sell t-shirts and absolutely love being involved.  I have had a son play in honor of a loved one or friend for all but one of the Pink Arrow games and I am so proud each year to watch our kids play and fight for the names on their backs.  I stand in the crowd and take pictures with tears rolling down my face as I listen to each person’s story.  Pink Arrow 2016 had a whole new meaning for my family and I. My son Nathan was going to play and fight for me! This year I would have my own story.  Several of my friends and family came to walk the survivor walk with me, and I was so blessed to have them share that with me. Standing out on that pink field that my husband paints and looking up into the crowd of pink touched my heart in so many ways.  Walking across the field hand and hand with my son who was wearing a pink jersey with our name on the back was something more touching than I have ever experienced.  As I hugged my son and tears fell down our faces, I knew just how special of a moment we were in.  As my daughter Kylee stood with her friends in the student section, she began to sob with emotion.  And because of Pink Arrow, her amazing friends knew how to support her.  The support of this community is like no other.  Our students have learned for almost ten years all about cancer and the experiences that people have to deal with. This is something they will take with them forever. There are so many of our Lowell families that have been touched by cancer in some way or another.  I thank Pink Arrow for bringing the awareness to Lowell and showing us all how to help and support each other.  I finished my last chemo treatment October 3, 2016.  I did it!, I made it through what felt like a big blur.  I do have some residual effects.  I have severe neuropathy in my hands and lower extremities and no one really knows if it will get better.  But that’s okay. I can deal with this because the alternative is not so good. My one year scans were clean, and I will continue to be monitored every three months.  I will be forever grateful to my wonderful husband and kids, my family and friends, the incredible Pink Arrow Foundation, and the Lowell community for their support and love throughout this entire journey.


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