AMY KUELBS lived an active, healthy lifestyle, and had no breast cancer risk factors in her health history. But in 1991, Amy found a lump. A biopsy showed it was malignant. "There I was," Amy says, "a 31-year-old unmarried woman, coming face-to-face with my mortality." She had a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy, then radiation. Amy thought she was cured. But in 1996, during her semiannual physical, she discovered the breast cancer had returned. This time she opted for a bilateral mastectomy (the removal of both breasts) and reconstructive surgerybut no other treatments. "I opted for the bilateral mastectomy because I didn't want to go through chemotherapy again," Amy says. "I knew the likelihood of cancer spreading to the other side was high."
Amy was right. In November 1997, she found another lumpthis time on her opposite side near the chest wall. "I was shocked that the cancer had returned," Amy says. "You think you've done everything possible to keep it at bay. I mean, I removed my breasts!"
Amy chose to have a bone marrow transplant, in which her bone marrow was taken, then returned to her body after five days of intense, round-the-clock chemotherapy. Afterwards she required blood transfusions and six weeks of radiation.
By February 1998, Amy was able to start walking again. Soon she was training for a marathon that would take place in May. "While I was in the hospital, one of my sisters informed me she was going to run the San Diego marathon. I told her, 'I'm going to do it with you.' I had to do something, and I wasn't about to let cancer rule my life." Amy worked out every day, whether going for a walk or a run. And on June 21, 1998, she completed the marathon in five and a half hours.
But there was another glitch. Several weeks before running the marathon, Amy went for her three-month checkup. More bad news: The cancer had returned, this time as spots on her spine. "I couldn't believe it was happening again," Amy recalls. "I wasn't even over the third time." So she went on Tamoxifen. Recently, they also discovered two spots on her liver.
"The first time I was diagnosed, I didn't have God in my life. I was totally relying on Amy. But Amy had already let me down! Something had invaded my body," Amy says. "Then a year before my second diagnosis, I became a Christian. I never could have gone through what I've been through without God. The strength, courage, and desire to live and overcome was more than I had, especially during the bone marrow transplant. I couldn't feed myself. I couldn't even pray for myself! But I knew people were praying for me and God was in control."
In 1997, before her third diagnosis, Amy, together with several other women, founded the Faith Cancer Foundation, an organization that raises funds for cancer research, but more important, offers comfort to cancer patients, their families, and friends through Faith, a stuffed toy lamb that offers hope and comfort.
Already the Faith Cancer Foundation has given away thousands of lambs, even to fellow breast cancer survivors Olivia Newton-John and Betty Ford, who also ordered a lamb for a friend.
Currently, Amy and her foundation are planning a Faith Rock & Run half-marathon and 5K for April 2000. It will include Christian bands and a full day of fun for families. She's also in the initial stages of developing support networks for cancer patients and their families.
"I've definitely had my moments when I didn't want to keep going," Amy admits. "But I have more self-confidence now that I have cancer. Just as in any situation, I have a choice: I can be happy, or I can be sad. I can be a victim, or I can take charge. Life's a lot easier with a positive attitude. I don't have to be anyone I can't be, but I can be more than I am."
You can reach Amy at The Faith Cancer Foundation, P. O. Box 795154, Dallas, TX 75379; 1-972-248-1516; www.faithcf.org.
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine. Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.