Chic Spotlight: Breast Cancer Survivor, Kelly Uihlein

Chic Spotlight: Breast Cancer Survivor, Kelly Uihlein

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Cincy Chic: Tell us about the pre-cancer Kelly, and where you were in life when you were diagnosed?
Kelly Uihlein: At the time I was diagnosed I was about a year into my relationship with my boyfriend. I’m a single mom and was enjoying my job and my life. But, one day, I felt a hardness on my right breast. It didn’t feel like a hard lump, but there was definitely something off. I always go for my yearly gynecological exam (which was in January 2006) so I made that appointment. Oddly enough, at the same time, my company was sponsoring Mobile Mammography, so I decided to sign up for that as well. I was probably a little worried, but I honestly didn’t think it was breast cancer. I just wanted to find out what it was. I was only 37 at the time, so I hadn’t even been told by my doctor to go for my first mammogram – I did that on my own.

I was diagnosed a day before Valentine’s Day and was told at that time that it was early stage breast cancer – the earliest stage – non-invasive, but because it was spread in my right breast. The diagnosis was a mastectomy.

Cincy Chic: Tell us about your fight with cancer – what were some of your biggest ups and downs on that journey?
Uihlein: I don’t really feel like I fought cancer. I think I felt all along that I was lucky. I didn’t have to undergo chemo or radiation so I always really downplayed my breast cancer. I don’t think I even really got upset or even thought about myself and my feelings about a double mastectomy until I had to tell my son, who was 12 at the time. He needed reassurance that I wasn’t going to die.

I think my biggest up was knowing I didn’t have to go through chemo or radiation. I felt fortunate to have had an early diagnosis and I had every reason to believe that after the mastectomy all I’d have to go through is the reconstructive process. I did develop an infection after my mastectomy and that led to a year of waiting, changing doctors and really feeling the effect not having breasts. Clothes that don’t look right, a concave chest. That sounds really selfish, but I think my biggest down came just recently, a full year after my mastectomy realizing that I really kept a lot in about how un-sexy and un-womanly I felt. I tend to be a really positive person, always trying to help others and typically put myself last. I think I should have talked more and really pushed myself to think about the affect it had on me subconsciously.

Cincy Chic: If you had to pick one thing that pulled you through that difficult time, what would it be?
Uihlein: For me, that "one thing" really has to be my relationships with people – relationships is the one thing. My boyfriend was always there for me – always made me feel like I was still beautiful. My son, Brendan, would always check in with me and pat me on the back to make sure I was OK. He’d laugh with me when my prosthesis would fall out of my bra. He’d make sure I wasn’t lifting things; he was protecting me. My older sister, Lisa, was the first family member I told. She was super positive along with me. My mom and dad loaded me up with books. And of course, my friends, were also key relationships during this time.

Cincy Chic:
How are you different since you were diagnosed? What does being a breast cancer survivor mean to you?
Uihlein: Since I was diagnosed, my priority is me and my health. I am in the process of having some time off from work to really focus on me and what’s important in life. I want to live every day to the fullest and really prioritize the things that are important and remove stress from my life. Being a breast cancer survivor means I have an obligation to give back. I want to get more involved in the fight to raise awareness of this and other cancers, the fight to find ways to detect breast cancer early, to educate women about paying attention to your health. I’m very mindful of how fortunate I am, but I know that I don’t know what life holds so I want to make the most of my life, my relationships and grab on to helping other women who are going through the same thing.