When Kristine Garcia was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she realized God has a sense of humor.
“I was the most flat-chested woman ever,” 50-year-old Garcia said. “I always tell people it doesn’t matter how big they are, because you can still get cancer.”
Garcia said she did regular self breast exams.
In January 2011, she discovered a “very small bump.” Believing it to be a small cyst that would likely dissolve on its own, Garcia kept an eye on it for a couple of months and when it didn’t go away she made an appointment with her doctor.
The doctor and nurses assured her that, “Oh, it’s probably nothing.”
The then-43-year-old mother of two underwent her first and last mammogram.
Several suspicious areas were detected in her left breast and a single spot was found in her right breast. A biopsy of five masses revealed malignancy in four of the five.
On April 1, 2011, Garcia was diagnosed with Stage 2A invasive lobular breast cancer.
As she listened to the physician’s words, all she could think about was what a sense of humor God has.
“I had that attitude through the whole thing. And it got me through,” she said.
One Sunday afternoon, about two weeks following her diagnosis, the reality of the situation hit her and literally brought her to her knees, she said. But the gravity of the situation is also what fed her fire to fight.
Garcia’s inner warrior emerged.
She and her husband, Jose, sought additional opinions from physicians and specialists. When she wasn’t seeing cancer specialists, she was online researching the latest in research about treatments for her type of cancer.
“Old school said to do chemotherapy,” she recalls. “The more research and information I received from universities I learned that chemotherapy would not be of benefit to me.”
Just over one month later, Garcia had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. In August, she began an intense regimen of 36 radiation treatments spread over more than six weeks.
Garcia said she did incorporate some elements of holistic therapy in her treatment regimen. For instance, she found green tea to be an useful supplement to stave off the ill effects of radiation therapy.
Each morning she would brew up a large batch of green tea, which she would store in a container on the bathroom counter. Four times each day she would apply the tea to the area where she was receiving radiation.
“By the grace of God, that tea was the perfect thing for me,” she said. “I didn’t have any burning or scarring.”
Garcia said she was initially told she was too flat-chested to have reconstruction, but that proved not to be the case. Since she didn’t have much extra skin to begin with, the reconstruction process took nearly eight weeks as the doctors worked slowly to fill the tissue expanders.
She knew she would look different, but she was pleasantly surprised with her new look when everything was done.
“I have a nice full A-cup now,” Garcia said. “I bought a bathing suit for the first time in my life and I was like ‘Wow! I have a little somethin’ something.’”
Garcia credits having amazing doctors whom she could trust for making her journey a little easier.
Her husband, Jose, said his wife showed tremendous strength throughout and that he doesn’t see her as just a survivor.
“She is so much more than that,” he said. “She never wavered and was a warrior through the whole thing. She gained a lot of my respect in how she handled it. There weren’t any times that she wasn’t highly motivated.”
The Columbus resident’s cancer journey lasted less than one year. She was given the all-clear in September 2011 and remains cancer-free today.
Garcia admitted that it took her another year or so to begin feeling more like herself. And even then she would still feel tired every now and again.
She considered herself fortunate that her children were young adults during her cancer journey. And though it was surreal for them, Garcia tried to keep things around the house — like schedules and activities — as normal as possible.
And, above all, Garcia said she’s blessed to have her husband.
“He was with me at every appointment and every step of the way,” she said. “I was so blessed he was able and wanting to be there to support me.”
It is not uncommon for family and friends of cancer patients to feel helpless or at a loss, Garcia said. And this is a sentiment that Jose Garcia understands firsthand.
“There are times you feel like there is nothing you can do because this thing is so big and overwhelming,” her husband said. “But there is something you can do: you can be there.”
Kristine Garcia said the greatest lesson this journey has taught her is that she is not in control of anything. Her faith, family and friends helped her through, but she said this has been a very humbling experience.
“It strengthened my faith and let me know it is OK to reach out to others,” she said. “I didn’t have to take care of others all the time.”