Control of the body is central to Kelly Jo Baute’s life.
Baute teaches a water fitness class at Indiana University. She enjoys hiking, trail running, Pilates, horseback riding and exercising with weights.
Some of those activities are enjoyed with her sons — Levi, 14, and Kyle, 12, — and the family dog, Louie, a 1-year-old Cairn terrier.
By profession, she is a lecturer in kinesiology, the scientific study of human movement, at IU. But over the past few months, she has learned there are some things involving the body that one can’t control.
One of them is cancer.
Baute had her first mammogram in April at age 41. It showed microcalcifications, the clustering of which concerned her doctor. A biopsy was performed. The diagnosis didn’t take long.
On May 24, Baute’s doctor called with news she had a gut feeling was coming. She had breast cancer.
It was ductal carcinoma in situ. That meant the cancer was in her milk ducts. It hadn’t spread to other tissue, and this form is considered non-life-threatening. But this type of cancer increases the risk for other forms of invasive cancer that can spread to other tissue.
She was at home alone that morning of the call, preparing to teach a class that day.
“It was hard to take. … It was surreal,” she said.
Baute had known others who had experienced breast cancer. But she didn’t think about getting it herself. After all, it didn’t run in her family. And in the prime of her life, she didn’t expect it to strike her.
“After I hung up with (the doctor) … I tried to get focused back on class work. But that didn’t happen. I didn’t make it to (class) that day. I cried a little. I was perplexed,” Baute said.
She held off telling her children about the mammogram because she didn’t want to needlessly worry them if tests came back negative. But now that she knew the diagnosis, they needed to know, too.
Gathered together at home, Baute explained that the family’s summer vacation to the Smoky Mountains, where they had planned to enjoy time with their grandmother and cousins, would have to be canceled. Their mother needed surgery and time to recover.
“It was really scary for me because (I thought) she could die of it,” Levi said, tears running down his cheeks.
“It was just really a toll. It was scary,” Kyle added. “I did a prayer. I hoped she would make it out well.”
As an academic, Baute likes to have as much information as possible when making decisions. That’s why she said it was an easy decision to have both breasts removed, even though the cancer was only in the right one. The risk of getting cancer in the other breast increases, she said, and reconstruction of two is easier than trying to match the appearance of one breast to another.
On July 13, she had surgery and reconstruction. She spent one day in the hospital before coming home.
She was “loopy” from strong pain medication for three or four days and moved pretty slowly for two weeks.
For three or four weeks “she lived in her bed,” Kyle said.
That was tough for Baute, who is used to being active.
“I don’t go many days without participating in something,” she said. “Being that laid up was really hard.”
Baute had the help of her mother and sons to keep the house in order. Kyle and Levi cleaned the house and the dishes, and Levi cooked some of his “famous” grilled cheese sandwiches and scrambled eggs.
When Baute was able to get up and about, she realized that the surgery caused her to be protective of her chest, keeping her arms tucked in and stooping over a bit. That led to back pains she had never experienced before. It took a while to overcome that.
Six weeks after the surgery, Baute finally felt the kind of energy she had before the surgery. The boys said they could tell she was doing better because she was exercising more.
Her fight is ongoing, though, as she faces chemotherapy treatments to kill any straggling cancer cells that surgery might have missed.
Through it all, Baute is upbeat.
Before she started chemotherapy, Baute had about 8 inches of her shoulder-length blond hair cut off, transitioning to a shorter hairdo. She and a friend, a breast cancer survivor, also shopped for wigs for Baute to wear.
By researching breast cancer, Baute has become interested in helping breast cancer patients with physical activities as they recover, so they don’t become inactive, gain weight and face other health problems.
“This definitely makes me want to be there for others,” she said.
Most importantly, Baute has realized how special life is and how important loved ones are.
From her experience, she offers this advice to others: “Make time to be with those who are important, and you should make every day be a good day for yourself and others.”