First published in “her Magazine”, October 2016.
Kristi Taylor is a woman who does things her way. She’s a wife, a mother, has a fulfilling career with Aflac, and is a cancer survivor.
At 34, Kristi was married, happy and expecting her first baby. A healthy pregnancy and 9 months later, Kristi and her husband, Russell County, Alabama Sheriff Heath Taylor, welcomed their son, Tristan, into the world. Kristi did everything the “right” way. She breastfed her baby for about 9 months, ate right and exercised. Life was good.
But at 37, something felt off. She checked in with her doctor, Dr. Simpson. Taylor says she feels lucky to have a doctor who listens to her and takes her concerns to heart. “He sent me for my first mammogram at the age of 37. And that is what saved my life,” says Kristi. Her first mammogram showed healthy breast tissue and she left relieved. Three years later, she was back in Dr. Simpson’s office for her regular check-up and he sent her to have the traditional “40 years old” mammogram. It was the Tuesday before she left for her 15th annual “Girls Weekend” at the beach with a group of women she has known since college and before. On Friday, Taylor received a call from her doctor’s office letting her know that there was a “spot”. A mammogram, a biopsy, and 21 days later, Kristi had an answer. She was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in situ (DCIS). There was no invasive tumor seen and they had caught it at stage 0. There were estrogen positive cells with strong intensity. “Having that first mammogram at 37 gave my doctors a baseline to compare healthy tissue against unhealthy tissue. Had I not had that first exam, my doctors probably would have just kept an eye on that spot and my cancer would have grown and become aggressive.”
And so the questions began to compile. Appointments were made and Taylor began meeting with doctors and surgeons. She had a lot of decisions to make. Her first decision was to have a double mastectomy and total reconstruction surgery. Her second decision was to go to Atlanta. “I needed to feel comfortable with the people who were going to be treating me. And at the same time I was going through my experience, Angie Dorchak was going through hers, and not long before mine, another friend had experienced stage 2 breast cancer and was in her mid-20’s. I went to both of them for advice and after hearing about Angie’s experience in Atlanta, I booked my first appointment with Dr.William Barber, an Atlantal Breast Surgeon, and Dr. James Namnoun, a plastic surgeon. I knew I was were I was supposed to be.”
Throughout Kristi’s journey, she still actively pursued her workout regimen. She had been a Crossfit athlete for almost three years leading up to her diagnosis. Her decision to have a double mastectomy would greatly affect her workout routine due to the fact that the doctors would have to cut her back and use those muscles to recreate her breasts. She had mentally prepared for the process of regaining her strength. But when Dr. Namnoun began surgery, he stopped. While Kristi was still under, he left the operating room and went to speak with her husband and mother. “It still makes me tear up to think about what he did for me. He asked Heath and Mama to sign a consent form to change the procedure plan so he wouldn’t have to cut my back. I recovered faster and lost less strength because of that. Who does that?” Taylor’s voice wavered as she recounted a story she only knows second hand.
It took three additional surgeries over a period of 13 months to get Kristi on a full road to recovery. But on September 2, 2015, Dr. Pippas at John B. Amos Cancer Center pronounced Kristi cancer-free with no need for chemo, radiation, or any drugs to maintain that status. “Dr. Pippas told me that my decision to have a double mastectomy saved me from additional treatment,” Kristi recounted. “I understand that not everyone has the same outcome as I did. And I get that I am incredibly blessed to be cancer free.” Her voice wavers again. “I have a strong support system, a positive mindset, and a lot of faith. I know a lot of women probably would have chosen to go with the initial suggestion to do a lumpectomy and that my decision sounds drastic. But I didn’t want to have to go through the 6 months of radiation and the vast side effects that go with that treatment. I made the best decision for me and here I am!”
Taylor maintains that by taking control of her health and her body, she is strong and healthy today. She did it the only way she knew how; her way.