October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is said to affect one in eight women in their lifetime and is the most common cancer in American women.
Chandra Krug of Alliance found herself battling breast cancer after she was laying in bed one night.
“I’m honestly not sure how I found it. I think I had an itch or something and I felt the lump,” Chandra said. “I was 37 years old and I figured I was too young to have cancer.”
Chandra and her husband, Heath, assumed it was just a cyst of some sort. She already had an appointment to have her yearly exam, but concerned with the newly found lump, she called the doctor the following day. Unable to get in that day because the clinic was getting a new mammogram machine, they scheduled Krug for Dec. 17, 2009.
The day of the mammogram, Heath and their daughter Jaiden went with Chandra to the appointment. Her son Dalton was in kindergarten, so he was at school.
“I started having symptoms, so in my gut I knew it was actually cancer,” Chandra recalled. “They took me back and did the mammogram and I could tell the nurse was concerned and trying to keep my mind occupied by asking questions about our upcoming trip to NYC. After what seemed like forever, the doctor came in and said the tumor was solid and not liquid and they needed to do an ultrasound and biopsy.
"I told them I needed Heath to come back there with me, so they took Jaiden to color a picture and he, at that point, knew in his gut it was cancer, too. I said I had to know today. I knew. They got me in to do the biopsy at 1 o’clock that afternoon.”
Things happened really fast but in slow motion, according to Chandra. Thoughts began to circulate in her head.
"I had a 4-year-old and 6-year-old and I was going to die of cancer. I was absolutely devastated.”
Chandra remembers going out and picking up her daughter and her asking, “Mommy, are you crying?”
She further remembered going downstairs to oncology and the nurse giving her a hug.
“On the way home, my dad called Heath’s phone and I told him not to answer. I couldn’t tell him on the phone. When we went to get Dalton, I just shook my head at my dad and he said, we are going to the Mayo Clinic or wherever we need to go and Dalton, being as observant as he is (because our neighbor’s daughter-in-law had went to the Mayo Clinic for cancer recently) asked if I had cancer. We hadn’t planned on telling them yet, but what do you say? So, I said, ‘Yes, baby, I do.’”
Following the diagnoses, Chandra said, “I had to sleep with the light on at night because the dark was so scary. I’ve never been afraid of the dark, but I was absolutely terrified of it for about quite a while after that.”
The process of treatment began for Chandra as she explained, “I was diagnosed on Dec. 17, 2009, and like I said, it’s a little blurry. Dr. Bjorling had me talk to a specialist in Omaha and he said I needed surgery immediately, so they got me an appointment with the surgeon in Scottsbluff. I saw her, probably the next day. So, I asked her when the soonest we could get this cancer out of me would be and she told me Dec. 23. I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
She made sure they knew she wanted a double mastectomy. She wanted to take every precaution she could that it would not return. The doctor assured her she would take them both.
The doctor also wanted to know if Chandra wanted reconstruction because she could get the plastic surgeon to rearrange her schedule if Chandra wanted. The surgery was then scheduled for Dec. 23.
“I have never been so scared in my entire life,” Chandra said. “I don’t remember what time we had to be there, but it was dark out when we left Alliance. It seemed like I waited in the room for them to come get me forever. Finally, they came and got me, and I was relieved but didn’t knock me out yet. I was so relieved when they took me back and knocked me out.”
Chandra recalled waking up and the excruciating pain. She also remembered the next day a nurse asking her if she had seen her incisions yet, which Krug replied no as she was scared to even look down.
“She (the doctor) told me her and I were going to look at them together.”
“I just looked like a little girl again. It wasn’t as traumatizing as I thought,” Chandra said. “I actually looked like a little girl.”
As it was Christmas Eve, Heath went home to be with the kids and Chandra’s parents stayed the night in a hotel in Scottsbluff. On Christmas morning, her parents came back to the hospital and Heath brought the kids and other family members to the hospital to be with Chandra on Christmas Day.
“The home health nurse came over to check on me and I hadn’t told my babies I didn’t have breasts anymore, but they were very curious and tried to peek when she would check my incisions. I was so scared to tell them and I didn’t want to traumatize them, but they knew something was up when they would try to hug me and I wasn’t able to hug them back like I did before,” Chandra said. “I have always been very lovey and affectionate with them and they were suffering not getting mommy’s hugs.”
It was time to tell the kids exactly what was going on following a conversation with her husband of which he explained the need to tell the kids so they understood why mom could not hug them, as they felt she did not love them anymore.
“I never ever, ever want my kids to think I don’t love them, so the next morning I showed them the scars,” she said. “They were not as shocked as I expected and I reassured them how much I love them. I could cry (today) just thinking about it.“
Chandra started chemotherapy on Jan. 18, 2010. She had eight rounds every two weeks and it was hard, but she never got sick like some people do. No. 4 and No. 5 were the worst she recalls.
“I would have chemo on Monday, go back over for the Neulasta shot on Tuesday and by that evening I was feeling the effects. I pretty much slept until Friday morning during that time,” Chandra said.
No. 5 was when they changed the drugs. They gave her too much of the Neulasta shot, causing her legs to hurt so bad she could hardly walk. She also had to have 36 rounds of radiation.
“That was a piece of cake compared to the chemo, although I was naughty and didn’t put the Aquaphor on and the last two weeks it started to burn and I got severe blisters.”
She also had to do Herceptin every three weeks for a year, which only took an hour and she had no side effects from that.
“My hair even started growing back,” Chandra said.
About eight months after she had the mastectomy, she decided to get some prosthetics and noted that she was surprised how good it made her feel to look like a woman again. She decided a couple of months later to go forward with reconstructive surgery.
During this long journey, Chandra noted the support system she had including, he husband, her kids, family and many friends.
“You don’t realize how much people care until you need them. I had so many people making us supper and sending cards and well wishes. I will forever be grateful for everyone that supported us through it . . . My darling little kids even wanted to shave their heads when I lost my hair from the chemo, but I just couldn’t let them do it,” Chandra said. “They totally would have if I asked.”
When asked what Chandra would say to others who are currently going through what she went through, she first stated, “Breast cancer is not a death sentence; cry if you need to, beat up the pillow on your bed if you need to, scream if you need to. Do not try to hide from your kids. Be honest no matter how scared you are. They will be your biggest supporters. Do what you need to do, but don’t ever give up.”
Chandra feels very strongly about getting mammograms. She stressed to “never ever skip your mammogram, it could literally save your life.”
She is thankful for the many resources that were available to her and her family during this time, noting how helpful Jane’s Closet was as well as Festival of Hope. She further explained the bills add up even if you have insurance.
The journey was long and hard, but Chandra, along with the help of those around her, fought and won.