Mother’s Memory, Family’s Support Guide Cancer Journey
Kate Goddin was a sophomore in college in 1997 when she found out her mother, Christine Garvey, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Kate, a theater major, was backstage preparing to put on a production of the play Sunday in the Park with George when she heard the news.
“I remember standing backstage with my headset, while everything was going on around me,” Kate said. “I was sad and stunned.”
After Chris’s cancer diagnosis Kate went home as often as possible and spent more weekends with her parents. She even chose to spend the summer of 1998 at home rather than stay on campus at the University of Mary Washington.
Although a lot of her mother’s cancer treatment is a blur for Kate, she does recall certain memories from that time. “I remember my mother went through many treatments at Portsmouth Naval Hospital,” she said. “I also remember visiting her in the hospital after chemotherapy.”
In early December Kate was home to celebrate her mother’s 47th birthday.
“She had a phenomenal birthday weekend,” Kate said. “She was able to do so many things she hadn’t been able to do before. We ate dinner together as a family and she actually enjoyed her meal without feeling sick. We acted silly and teased my dad, just like always.”
Kate was home with her family the next weekend, too. On Friday her dad, Pat, took her brother Kyle to soccer practice. Kate stayed home with her mom and her Uncle David. Chris was resting on the couch when she asked her daughter to bring her a blanket.
“She was struggling to breathe,” said Kate. “She looked me right in the eyes and took her last breath.”
The family had been working with hospice so Kate called them instead of 911. When the hospice workers arrived they comforted a shocked Kate, still wearing her pajamas and robe. “The hospice workers were so kind to me,” Kate said. “They even pulled my clothes from the dryer so I could get dressed.”
Seventeen years later, Kate is grateful she went home to visit that weekend and that she was able to be there with her mom when she passed.
Another Cancer Diagnosis
Kate was happy for her father when he met someone new and decided to marry again. “It was a bit disconcerting to see my dad with someone who wasn’t my mom,” Kate recalled. “But my dad was very young when my mom died and he didn’t need to spend the rest of his life alone.”
Kate’s stepmother, Jane, had also lost her first husband to cancer. Kate remembers what she thought when she learned Jane, too, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was worried for Jane,” Kate said. “I also wondered why this was happening to my dad again. It was totally unfair.”
Kate believed Jane was in good hands and kept repeating to herself “Jane’s cancer was caught early, she’ll be fine.” To help her dad and Jane, Kate delivered meals to their home. “It was the only thing I knew to do,” she said.
The Unlucky Side of Statistics
In October 2014 Kate went in for her first mammogram. A friend accompanied her for the testing. “I was concerned about getting a mammogram, but I wasn’t terrified,” Kate said. “I thought of it as just another test.”
The first mammogram showed microcalcifications in Kate’s breast. Microcalcifications are small calcium deposits that appear as white flecks on a mammogram. Usually they are benign, but because of Kate’s family history, the doctor decided to perform a biopsy.
During the biopsy Kate was positioned flat on her stomach with her breasts hanging through two holes in the exam table. Using a large needle, the doctor extracted a tissue sample from her breast. The biopsy results came back as non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
“I was diagnosed with stage 0 DCIS,” Kate said. “The doctors said it was in my milk ducts and that it hadn’t spread.” When Kate had an MRI performed on her breast, the doctors discovered the DCIS was larger than they thought and a small nodule was located near the DCIS. She had a second biopsy done, but this time she was able to lay on her back and watch the ultrasound screen along with the doctor. Her breast was numb so she couldn’t feel the large needle penetrate her skin, but she could watch as the doctor maneuvered it to obtain a sample.
For many, this might be uncomfortable or even unbearable. But Kate is a third-grade teacher, so not much rattles her. “I actually thought it was pretty cool to watch,” she said.
The results of the second biopsy showed that Kate had invasive ductal carcinoma. “It was a whole different ballgame after that,” she said.
Kate’s Journey Begins
Kate spoke with a guidance counselor at the school where she teaches about how she should tell her daughters, eight-year-old Charlotte and 10-year-old Beth, that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.“The guidance counselor told me that I should give my daughters the facts so they wouldn’t imagine even worse scenarios in their heads,” Kate said.
Kate wasn’t afraid to tell her father, Pat, about her diagnosis, but she knew this time would be even harder for him than the first two experiences because she was his child. “I knew my cancer diagnosis would be the most difficult of the three,” she said. “It would be like taking away a piece of himself.”
Pat knew immediately who his daughter should contact for help. A few years ago he partnered with Beyond Boobs! for the Christine Garvey Memorial Soccer Tournament. The tournament, now in its 16th edition, donates a portion of the funds it raises to the nonprofit. After working with cofounder Mary Beth Gibson, Pat knew Kate would find the support she needed with the Boobers!
“My dad has been so incredible and supportive,” Kate said. “The first thing he told me after I told him my diagnosis was that I should call Mary Beth.”
When she was first diagnosed Kate didn’t feel like it was a big deal. She didn’t think she really needed Beyond Boobs! “I was stage 0. I thought it would be quick, easy, and over,” she said.
When she was ultimately diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma she had so many thoughts swirling in her head. She decided to call Mary Beth back to speak with her about how she was feeling and what she was going through.
“We talked two or three times,” Kate said. “Mary Beth is a phenomenal listener. She gave me some great advice about moving forward. I am glad I finally listened to my dad.”
The Next Steps
Kate elected to have a bilateral mastectomy and on Christmas Eve 2014 had her first surgery. “The surgery went well, but afterward I was uncomfortable and in pain,” Kate said. “I had to wear a drain for two weeks. I wasn’t allowed to take a shower and it was strange to have medical equipment coming out of my body.”
After Kate’s first surgery, inflatable breast implants, called expanders, were inserted under the skin on her chest. “I am not completely flat, but I don’t have nipples anymore and I have huge scars,” she said. Reconstruction is not an easy process. The expanders in Kate’s chest will be filled gradually until her skin has stretched enough to accommodate implants. “I can’t wait to get rid of the expanders,” Kate said. “They are hard as a rock. It’s like wearing an iron bra all the time.”
It will be close to a year before her breast reconstruction will be finished. Kate wants the final version to look as natural as possible for her husband, Gus. When all of her surgeries are done Kate wants to take her family to Baltimore to celebrate and to get nipple tattoos from Vinnie Myers, who is skilled at crafting three-dimensional nipple tattoos.
In January Kate underwent her first dose of chemotherapy. “I felt fine, but it was nerve-wracking to think that I had poison coursing through my veins,” she said. “Even though I feel OK, I just don’t feel like myself. I’m hungry but I have no appetite. I know it won’t be an easy road to travel.”
Kate’s stepmother, Jane, went with her to her first chemo appointment. Jane knitted a sock while Kate watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother. While she was there she saw someone her own age also getting treatment and the three women struck up a conversation.
“Once I was there, it was easy,” Kate said. “Now that I know what to expect, I feel better. The anticipation was the worst part.”