Kim recovering after a double mastectomy in the OR with her daughters, Jasmine and Maisie. (Photo by Shaun Daniels)

by Len Lear

Each of the estimated 2,000 women, men and children who will convene on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday morning, May 19, for Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s 18th annual Reach & Raise yoga event has a personal reason for being there.

For Kim Daniels, 43, of Chestnut Hill, it’s a chance to be with a supportive community exactly one year from her last chemotherapy treatment and to realize she’s not alone. Two weeks after last year’s event, she began a doctor of nursing practice program at Villanova University and then went back to work in July at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, where she is a clinical nurse specialist.

In between, she had reconstructive surgery and an oophorectomy (surgical removal of ovaries) and is now on a hormonal medication that causes achiness and bone pain. She addresses the discomfort with yoga, meditation, resistance exercises and by rowing with a team of other women affected by breast cancer who meet weekly at a boat club in Conshohocken.

Daniels, who also has Type 1 diabetes, is giving back to others, serving as a Young Advocate for LBBC and on the peer Helpline, sharing her breast cancer experience with others who are now facing some of the challenges she overcame in the past year.

As for the Reach & Raise event this year, Daniels said, “I’m looking forward to the community. I love how we’re all there together and all doing this practice together. It reminds us we’re not in this alone and that there is much support and that we have each other to lean on.

“It is extremely challenging for me,” she admitted, “given my ‘chemo brain’ and ‘ovary/menopause brain.’ I have a lot of difficulty word-finding, and my short-term memory is pretty much gone. As stressful and challenging as it is to be working full-time, in school full-time, a wife and mom of two little girls, I am loving it all!

“Working and being in my doctorate program stimulates my brain and, I believe, is helping to strengthen my brain from the adverse effects of the chemo and having my ovaries out. Some people tell me I’m insane for doing all of this, but I am determined to finish my doctorate to spite my breast cancer … to show my breast cancer that it can not take this away from me!”

Kim Daniels on the day of her last chemo treatment, May 17, 2018, (Photo by Shaun Daniels)

Daniels, who is on course to complete her doctorate degree this December, admits she is not managing her achiness and bone pain well, but she is trying to be proactive for the long run. Physical therapy has helped in teaching movements to strengthen areas that are causing pain.

“It is also strengthening my body for the onset of any osteopenia [bone density lower than normal] that may occur from the aromatase inhibitors I am on to stop my body from making estrogen hormones that will feed any remaining breast cancer cells that may be lying dormant in my bone marrow.

“I have a lot of hand joint pain and stiffness … I have these ‘gloves’ that really look like comfy oven mitts that I put in the microwave to heat up, and then I put them on my hands and lie in bed … This helps ease the pain so I am able to fall asleep for the night.”

One message that Daniels has for all new cancer patients is to find a support group like LBBC.

“There is not a level high enough for me to rank how important the support of others is in this journey,” she insisted. “I wouldn’t call this stage a ‘recovery’ because breast cancer may not be totally gone since it had already spread to my lymph nodes when I was originally diagnosed.

“Since my breast tissue is gone, the breast cancer cells could be triggered by something and mobilize to another organ. Breast cancer warriors understand this in a way that no one can describe. Even just going to dinner or lunch with our support group is wonderful because each of us knows that we ‘get it.’ We understand.”

Daniels’ family is no stranger to cancer. Three years ago, she watched her dad die and two weeks later watched the matriarch of the family, her grandmother, die.

“My dad was a very active and healthy man,” she recalled. “He turned 70 and had never spent one day of his life in a hospital as a patient. Not many people can say that! He was unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer and got the final results on my 40th birthday.

“Five months after his initial symptoms began, he died. His wish was that he did not want to ever be in a hospital, let alone die in a hospital. He wanted to die in his home. I made sure that would happen. During the last month of his life, he deteriorated to the point that I needed to move in with him.

“My husband, Shaun, was amazing with the love and support he gave to me and my dad during those last five months of my dad’s life. Shaun pretty much turned into a single dad, working full-time and caring for two little girls so I could continue to care for my dad.

“During my dad’s last week of life, it broke me to stand by his side while he died. As hard as this was for me and my husband and daughters, I would do it all over again if I could.”

To register for the May 19 Reach & Raise event, visit reachandraise.org. For more information about breast cancer, visit LBBC.org, or call 855-807- 6386. You can reach Len Lear at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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