In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re honoring a few of the incredible breast cancer survivors who work at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) by sharing their stories.
Barb Culbertson has worked at Blue KC for more than 25 years and has been a breast cancer survivor for more than 21 years.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 1996. I was mowing my yard on a hot, humid day. I wiped sweat that was running down my neck and noticed a hard spot in my right breast. The next week, a mammogram confirmed the lump was cancerous.”
“I underwent chemotherapy for three months, radiation for six weeks and another round of chemo for an additional three months. During these months I worked hard at eating better and started walking for exercise. This helped me mentally as well as physically.”
“For anyone diagnosed with cancer, my advice is to let your friends, family or anyone who wants to help, help. I’m not one to ask for help, but I learned a lot about people during my treatment. People want to help. It makes you feel good and makes them feel good. Another piece of advice is to stay off the Internet too much. Don’t dwell on your diagnosis, just listen and talk with your doctors. Take every day as it comes.”
Charita Simmons has worked in the customer service department at Blue KC for a year and a half.
“I discovered a lump in my right armpit. At first I thought it may be a boil, but it didn’t hurt. I went to my doctor and I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2014. I had a lumpectomy and then went on to have radiation treatment.”
“My family and friends were very supportive during this time. It can get you down because your mind wanders off to the worst case scenarios. Without them I would have stressed or cried way more, but they kept me positive.”
Lalysa Bradford is a Health Advocacy Coordinator. She’s worked at Blue KC almost 20 years.
I do not have a family history of breast cancer so I never thought it would happen to me. My breast cancer was caught early thanks to my yearly mammogram. I had two lumpectomies, then 20 daily radiation treatments. I am still healing and have a follow up mammogram soon. If that is clear, then I will be able to go back to just regular annual mammograms. I feel very lucky to have it caught early!”
“Gather a tight-knit team. Let people know what is going on with you so they understand and are able to help. Keep a positive attitude and your sense of humor. Just take one day at a time and make sure to take care of yourself. Meditation helped me a whole lot too.”
“This experience has given me a different outlook on life. I am grateful to heal and still be alive. It’s scary to hear you have cancer, but it makes you put things in your life back in the right order and aware that we have a finite time here on Earth, so make it happy.”
Jeanetta Ellis works in the Community Relations department.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. I went in for a routine examination. I felt fine and had no reason to believe this visit would be different from the previous exams which all came back negative. This particular time they found an abnormal spot. A biopsy was performed and I was told I had breast cancer. I felt like my world had ended. In December 2010, I had surgery and started 16 weeks of radiation therapy. Treatment went well and my cancer is completely gone. I am proud to say that I have been cancer-free for seven years.”
“The advice I would give others battling cancer is to surround yourself with positive people. Your frame of mind and positive thinking is a healthy start to the healing process. Stay positive and never give up on life. I also cannot stress enough to go in for your annual mammogram. Early detection prevented me from having to go through chemotherapy and other treatments.”
Tamara Nelson is a Senior Compensation Specialist and has worked at Blue KC for two years.
“I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in December 2014. The cancer was discovered during my annual mammogram. I had surgery a few months later and have been cancer-free since then. Now I’m on preventative medications and I visit my oncologist for regular check-ups.
“My family and friends, especially my mother and fiancé, were my support system. They gave me strength to get through this difficult journey. I also had a nurse advocate who let me know what to expect when meeting with the doctors. The nurse advocate also attended doctor appointments with me and just checked in on me from time to time.”
“Remember that it’s okay to feel how you feel – good or bad. There will be good days and bad days, but just continue to follow the course and plan that is right for you. Prayer definitely works. I could not have gotten through this without my faith.”
Brenda Hanes is a Medical Management Coordinator and has worked at Blue KC for more than 33 years.
“Months before being diagnosed with breast cancer, I had noticed an indentation in my left breast. I had heard that this could be a sign of a mass, but honestly I was afraid to find out for sure. Breast cancer does not run in my family. It wasn’t until my yearly routine mammogram that was it confirmed.”
“It’s so important to have a support system. My friends, co-workers and family were my number one support team. They took care of me, sent me cards, brought me food, came to visit me and talked to me on the phone for hours which certainly kept my spirits up.”
“My advice to anyone going through this is to know your options. Education is empowerment. And remember to have your yearly routine mammogram. Beware of signs and symptoms and don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about anything.”
Charlotte Garrett is a Broker Commission Analyst and has worked at Blue KC for four years.
“Thanks to a mammogram, my cancer was caught while it was still Stage 1. Since it had not metastasized, I was able to elect a lumpectomy and then six weeks of radiation, avoiding chemotherapy. I am so thankful for the progress that has been made for breast cancer detection and treatment.”
“My girlfriends were a huge support system for me. They attended doctor’s appointments with me and would ask questions that I wouldn’t think to ask. The emotional support helped me so much!”
“I recommend finding a doctor you like and can connect with, but don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. Open up to your friends and family. Let them help you. And stay positive! Look for the positive parts of your life and concentrate on those.”
Debbie Hosty has worked in Large Group Sales for more than seven years.
“The last thing you expect when you are 39 years old and feeling great is to be diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. I had no family history of breast cancer. It was surprising, shocking and life-changing for me. I had followed all the medical guidelines at the time and had my first mammogram at 35. I scheduled my follow-up mammogram just prior to age 40 when it was discovered. The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I would have never known I had cancer if not for the mammogram. My journey to recovery meant a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstructive surgery and a series of drug treatments for a number of years. I am thrilled to say I am approaching my 18th year of being a cancer survivor!”
“It is difficult in the moment when you know you have a journey of treatment to endure over a period of time, but take each day, each week and each year to be as positive as you can. Let your friends and family help you.”
“Take control of your health. Only you can ensure you are doing everything you can to stay healthy for you, your kids and family. This journey made me realize even more how precious life and time is and to work hard, but play hard and enjoy every day and experience as much as you can in your life.”