A survivor’s journey: A Hancock Health associate shares her breast cancer story

Years from now, when we look back on the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely we’ll each have different perspectives to share. Such is the nature of social distancing, a situation where we’re each siloed in our own respective bubbles.

For Amy Kirkpatrick, an administrative assistant with the Hancock Health Foundation, her pandemic experience is a tale of survival—just not from the virus. In early March, when the rest of the country was beginning to lock down amid stay-at-home orders in an attempt to flatten the coronavirus curve, Amy received abnormal results from a routine mammogram at the James T. Anderson, MD, Center for Women’s Health.

“I had DCIS stage zero breast cancer in my left breast, and I had to have a mastectomy,” Amy said. “It happened quick—right before COVID started. I had to do four biopsies to detect it all. The cancer was scattered. That’s why I had to have a mastectomy.”

To avoid exposure to COVID-19, Amy’s mastectomy was delayed until the last week of April. Throughout the delay, her surgeon, Dr. Timothy Goedde, kept her informed of all updates and options.

“Dr. Goedde was amazing,” Amy said. “He kept in touch. He would text me when results came in. He would call me when I needed to schedule something else. It was very detailed. It wasn’t just ‘this is what we’re going to do.’ He wasn’t just going to quickly jump into something. He put me at ease, as I was crying in his office. He was just genuine. All the doctors are great, but I was taken aback by him. He was wonderful.”

At the outset of her diagnosis, Kirkpatrick was anxious to get her surgery completed. At the time, she was scheduled to leave for a cruise on April 28. The cruise was a celebration in honor of a kidney she donated to a friend in need a year earlier. Needless to say, her diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans in mind for her travel.

“I remember sitting there with Dr. Goedde,” Kirkpatrick said. “I said, ‘We gotta go fast or we gotta put this on hold, because I have a cruise.’ He probably thought, ‘This lady is absolutely crazy.’”

Instead of heading to New Orleans to depart for her cruise, Kirkpatrick had her mastectomy on April 27.

Along with the mastectomy, Kirkpatrick had a direct implant put in place by Hancock plastic surgeon Dr. Sewit Amde. She said that at first, she thought her insecurities about her appearance after the operation were vain, but quickly moved past that with the help of her physicians.

“The scars were overwhelming,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s when I felt my lowest. But I got through it, again, with wonderful doctors like Dr. Amde. I know that it’s all going to heal.”

Kirkpatrick returned to her work with Hancock Health Foundation just two weeks after her surgery. She said she’s grateful for her boss who encouraged her to take it easy and didn’t push her to return too soon. But she also recognized that she needed a routine and to “get back to reality.”

Kirkpatrick is still trying to figure out what her role will be going forward as a cancer survivor. For now, she’s passionate about making sure her friends and family are getting their mammograms, since she would not have discovered her cancer without one. She’s also grateful for her role with the foundation and the support they give to women across her community. “I work here. I loved my job already. This just made it 100 percent more,” she said.

As for advice or words of encouragement for patients facing a battle with cancer, Kirkpatrick’s message was simple. “Don’t feel like you’re in it alone,” she said. “I kept my diagnosis to myself for quite some time. Once I finally opened up about it, there were so many people who have dealt with this or some sort of cancer. It was nice to get all the support I was really missing out on.”

Learn more about the amazing care available at Hancock Regional Hospital’s Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center on our website. Now would be a great time to  schedule your next mammogram at James T. Anderson, M.D., Center for Women’s Health. Call (317) 468-4600 to schedule an appointment.