East Texas Family Deals With Cancer

The Werners were an active family with two adorable children; Allie 6 and Andrew 5. They had everything going for them. Then, last November they got some news that changed their life. "My first thought was, I can't have breast cancer. I have kids to raise."

Kristin was shocked. At 36 years old, she was the example of good health. She exercised, watched her nutrition and didn't smoke. "It never even crossed my mind that this could happen," she says.

Her husband, Michael, was in a state of denial. But at a doctor visit, he soon realized how real this would become. "He basically said that we need to be in survival mood here and when he said that, it finally hit me that it really was very serious. I had this feeling that overcame me, such an anxiety I had never felt in my life."

It happened on their 10th wedding anniversary and for the first time, he realized he might lose his wife. "There were times when I would just sit back and pray to God to give me the strength during those times, help me to do the right thing," Michael says.

They soon realized that a big part of beating cancer was remaining positive. "I feel very fortunate that I found the lump when I did because I wasn't scheduled to have a mammogram for 4 more years. So, I feel a blessing and a reasoning for this happening."

Kristin soon learned the value of friends, surrounded by them with each visit to the hospital. She would undergo two surgeries, removing one breast, some lymph nodes and part of her pectoral muscle.

Kristin's Physician, Dr. Sasha Vukelja, at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, says young women dealing with breast cancer want to know how this will change them. "Young women are really searching for that. To find that this will give them a strength not a handicap. You know they are not victims. We used to call them cancer victims. Now, we call them cancer survivors. People will ask, 'When am I a survivor.?' I say well, if you have cancer and you're talking to me, you're a survivor."

Once every three weeks, for six months, Kristin undergoes a round of chemotherapy. "When they start the actual chemo you feel a little burn when it goes in right here. Then, you get a head rush and you feel it and you're a little dizzy," says Kristin.

The chemo makes her tired, nauseous and fatigued, zapping the energy she once had for her children. They, along with Michael, have now stepped up to help. "I help her because I love her," says Andrew in a soft voice. Allie says, "I clean the house and get my self breakfast before school."

After working all day, then attending sporting events and school functions, Michael gained new insight into what his wife's day used to be like. "I've gathered such an appreciation for what she has done."

They have also learned to simplify their lives. Kristin says, "I pray all the time for the strength and I honestly do believe God is with us and protecting us and everything will be OK"

The chemo would soon take another toll. "My hair was more difficult then losing a breast. I never would have thought that would happen. But losing a breast only my family knows, with no hair everyone notices."

The day Kristin's hair began to fall out, she lay crying on her bed when Allie walked in. "She said, 'Well Mommy, if you had lost your arm your arm won't grow back, but when you loose your hair your hair will always grow back.' To have a six year old tell you that I thought, she's right."

Kristin decided to just get it over with. "Me and Andrew cut all her hair off with scissors," says Allie.

As Kristin waits for her hair to grow back, she is now close to being done with chemotherapy. Her last treatment is June 11th. "It's a good feeling knowing that after today I can go through this one more time and hopefully be completely finished and get on with my life as normal."

And while this family plans to return to that active lifestyle very soon, this time, they will do things a little different. "I realize what is important in our lives and I appreciate every little minute that I have with my kids, with my family, with friends and you don't sweat the small stuff."

One of the main fund raisers in East Texas for cancer research is coming up. The Tyler Cattle Barons' Gala is June 5 at the Crowded 6 Ranch near New Harmony. For ticket information, or to make a donation, call the American Cancer Society at 903-597-1348.

Gillian Sheridan, reporting.