Behind the Whistle: Five Years Later
Wed Oct 28 2020 | Kerstin Kimel | College
PHOTO BY NAT LeDONNE / DUKE ATHLETICS
This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Kerstin Kimel is the head coach at Duke University.
On Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, our team and staff focused on an important day of scout preparation and practice before a Sunday game at Navy. But that morning, before I could wrap my head around how to shut down Kelly Larkin and manage Navy’s aggressive defense, I put my ‘game face’ on and headed over to the Duke Cancer Center for my bi-annual check-up and annual mammogram.
Having been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in January 2015, this was a big day. The five-year survival rate for women who have completed treatment for Stage 2 breast cancer is 93 percent. In my case, treatment included surgery, eight rounds of chemotherapy and thirty rounds of radiation. If my scan was clean that day, I would officially be a five-year survivor. Anyone who has had cancer knows that five years is an important benchmark. As I walked out of DCC officially cancer free that day, I was both relieved and grateful. I walked down the long corridor to the parking garage, reflecting on many things. In particular, how long ago January 2015 seemed; how many people I know who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and the changes I had made in my life since being diagnosed.
Let this be your friendly reminder that ONE in EIGHT women — I repeat, ONE in EIGHT — will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and those percentages are REAL. In my life alone, for example, a childhood friend was going through breast cancer treatment at the same time I was. And since my diagnosis and recovery, a best family friend, former Boston College coach Bowen Holden, current Wesleyan coach Kim Williams, and just last week, my internationally renowned award-winning Duke psychologist and next door neighbor were all diagnosed with some form of breast cancer. And to be frank, I was most floored when I read in ILWomen that former Boston College great Mikaela Rix, who as a healthy, active, former All-American lacrosse player, was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in her 20s. The harsh reality is that this disease spares no one.
Cancer changes everyone in different ways. As someone who prided themselves in how they took care of their body, I quickly realized that I could be doing so much more. I poured through information and educated myself on how to not only help my body recover from treatment, but how to help me stave off recurrence. There are so many resources available, and through this ‘re-education,’ I have taken a more holistic and integrative approach to my health. Some of the changes were big, others were small, but many of the changes would be helpful to any health-conscious woman — especially those of us in the busy and hard-working profession that is college coaching!
Here are some of the commitments and changes and I made in my post-cancer life:
1. HELP OTHERS AS OTHERS HELPED ME
Ten Duke Lacrosse mothers who had spanned twenty years in our program had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Collectively, they offered me an amazing support system. There is nothing like being able to talk to someone who totally understands what you are going through. Additionally, my neighbor, former volunteer assistant coach and our favorite legal counsel, Sam Ekstrand, mobilized my Duke family and together, they made sure that my family had groceries, was fed and well taken care of throughout the duration of my treatment. I am eternally grateful for these people and their efforts. I want to make sure I am always available to support those who are battling with advice, words of wisdom or physical support.
2. CHANGE YOUR DIET
Again, I took pride in how I took care of myself. After cancer, I have worked to eliminate and/or significantly reduce processed foods and sugar. I eat almost exclusively organic fruits and vegetables as well as grass/pasture fed meats/eggs/dairy. Some of these changes were expensive but worth it. I pay close attention to gut health as it impacts digestive, physical, mental health and well-being. I take supplements that meet deficiencies or, in my case, address my vulnerabilities having had cancer and endured cancer treatment. Supplements that are NO-BRAINERS given COVID are: Vitamins C, D3, Zinc, B-12.
3. USE CLEAN PRODUCTS
I moved to use only clean personal and cleaning products. Everything from toothpaste to aluminum free deodorant to shampoo/conditioner, laundry, dishwashing and house cleaners, that are minus carcinogens and hormone disrupters (which is huge with breast cancer as many are hormone-driven). A simple Google search can help you identify both dangerous ingredients and affordable options for both personal and household items.
4. PRIORITIZE SELF CARE
Finally, I stopped feeling guilty for spending the time and money on taking care of myself. Stress is toxic, and our jobs, while incredibly enjoyable, are highly stressful. Throw in a husband, three busy kids, etc., and it can be a recipe for chronic stress where your body does not have the opportunity to recover or regenerate each day. I have no doubt that stress played a huge role in my cancer diagnosis. Since then, I have made acupuncture, chiropractic work and massages a priority every month. I continue to work out hard, as sweating almost every day is a priority, but as I near 50, my body and mind need care more than ever. I utilize essential oils and salt baths for relaxation and recovery as well as CBD products to help sleep.
I realize that some of these changes can be expensive. But, trust me, in the age of local CSA’s, Costco, Trader Joes, Aldi, Target, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Massage Envy, etc., this kind of food, personal products and body care are cost effective and more readily available than ever.
In closing, a reminder that early detection is EVERYTHING. It doesn’t matter how old you are or whether or not you have had family history. You are not immune. Educate yourself, eat well, use clean products, take good care of your mind, body and spirit. Finally, do your monthly breast exams, go see a doctor if there are any changes and never miss your mammograms … even during COVID!
EDITOR’S NOTE: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. We provide the links below for those who are interested in learning more about breast cancer or joining the fight against breast cancer.
NATIONAL CONSORTIUM OF BREAST CANCERS — Breast Cancer Resources
WE FIGHT LIKE GIRLS (Mikaela Rix’s fundraiser) — 100% of donations go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
NATIONAL BREAST CANCER FOUNDATION — Programs, resources and support