Kathleen Schuppenhauer is originally from Tampa but now lives with her husband in their North Port home.
When were you diagnosed and at what age?
I was diagnosed in 1989 at 44.
What kind of treatment did you receive?
I had treatment up at Moffitt Cncer Center. I had surgery — a lumpectomy — radiation and chemo.
What was the most challenging part?
I had two teenage girls at home at the time. My husband had to learn how to cook and take care of the girls plus work. I got into a zone, no emotions were coming in or going out, I was just concentrating on my health and getting better.
Chemo was definitely hard; they’re getting a lot better now. They have anti-nausea shots now. But I lived off popsicles and watermelon because I couldn’t keep anything down. I was out of for days when I had chemo, I can’t remember anything but throwing up.
They have a protocol up at Moffitt, a year out, they found something suspicious, so I had to have a biopsy on both breasts. There was nothing but it started the whole cycle again. After that year, they found something else, so I had another biopsy.
I never had a reoccurrence but it never leaves you, in a way, I get really tense when I have to have my mammogram again.
Where did you find the most support?
I had a great support group with my parents, my siblings and my husband. Then I also got involved with Relay for Life down in Bonita Springs and here in North Port. It’s about keeping a positive attitude, saying “I can beat this.”
How has this experience affected your relationships with family and friends?
It drew me closer to them. I was the first one of my siblings to get breast cancer, then my sister got breast cancer. My aunt who was only five years older was diagnosed, too and eventually died from it because it came back.
You really appreciate your friends and family and you appreciate life because you realize it can be taken away. You live your life every day.
How has this experience changed you? What have you learned about yourself?
I learned that I was strong, which I didn’t think I was. I read a book that had been gifted to me about a doctor in the Arctic who discovered she had breast cancer. They couldn’t get help up to her but she just kept fighting, she did her own biopsy even.
All breast cancer survivors, I think, can relate to each other on their journey. I felt the same way as her. At night, you’d wake up with fear but you’d have to tell yourself “It’s not going to beat me.”
She was inspiring. All cancer survivors are inspiring. We become more informed, we become fighters.
What advice would you give to others?
Always be positive. You’re going to find out how strong you really are. If you need help, ask for it. Trust in yourself when consulting with your doctors and keep fighting.
It’s also really important to get your mammogram every year, to self-exam and get the best treatment and care you can.