A promise kept
Local cancer survivor looks back on battle well fought
October 25, 2007
Craig — The realization was slow in coming.
When Kim Dilldine was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, the realization didn’t dawn on her then-13-year-old son, Tyler, until long after she began wearing a hat to disguise her hair loss.
Yet, the realization came.
And when it did, Dilldine said, her son broke down.
“Mom, people’s moms die from this,” he told her.
It was then that she made him a promise – one that would later propel her into the fight for cancer awareness.
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“It broke my heart,” Dilldine said. “I told him, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to fight this.'”
Now, cancer free for three years, she’s made good on that promise. Designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October celebrates the stories of Dilldine and others who have walked the shadowed path of cancer survivorship.
It also serves as a reminder of the silent threat affecting thousands of women annually.
According to the American Cancer Society Web site, about 178,480 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Of those, about 40,460 will die. While lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of breast cancer, no amount of preventative measures can guarantee immunity from it – a truth Dilldine experienced personally.
“That’s what made me angry,” she said. “I did everything right. I ate the right foods; I nursed both of my boys; I had mammograms every year.”
When doctors told her she had breast cancer, she had no idea it was coming.
“I was shocked,” she said. “Everything happened so fast.”
Almost overnight, Dilldine’s life dramatically changed. Diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, she began taking chemotherapy treatments every three weeks from July to December. Eventually, she underwent a lumpectomy followed by a series of radiation treatments.
The chemotherapy and radiation treatments made her bones hurt. She began losing her hair.
“The chemo was the worst part,” Dilldine said. “The only thing I could think was, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to lose my hair.’ : The minute you lose your hair, everyone knows.” Eventually, she asked her hairstylist, Donna Fleetwood, to shave her head.
“There was no way I could wake up day after day with handfuls of hair on my pillow,” she said.
The aesthetics of cancer survival eventually captured Dilldine’s interest. While undergoing treatment in Grand Junction, she attended a meeting of “Look Good, Feel Better,” a program helping individuals find ways to deal with hair loss and other physical affects of cancer.
“I went, and I loved it,” Dilldine said. “When I came back, it was the way I wanted to give back to Moffat County.”
Starting a “Look Good, Feel Better” program in Craig was one of several means Dilldine used to support local cancer patients and promote cancer prevention. Among these, encouraging early and regular mammograms remains at the top of Dilldine’s list.
The American Cancer Society suggests every woman undergo a baseline mammogram at age 30 and start having yearly mammograms at age 40.
Dilldine begs to differ.
“Every (woman) 18 and over should have a mammogram,” she said. “There are women 20 years old who are diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Dilldine also combats negative or misleading images about cancer survival – specifically those that declare those who die of cancer have “lost the battle.”
“It’s a battle, but it’s not something you lose,” she said. “It takes over your body. You battle it until you can’t anymore.”
Even after being declared cancer free for three years, Dilldine’s outlook on life remains forever changed. And she knows even now there’s no guarantee the cancer won’t come back or another form of it won’t appear.
“There’s always a chance,” Dilldine said.
Still, she added, her bout with cancer did yield positive results, including a renewed appreciation for life and the desire to celebrate even the smallest joys.
To these, one may add a promise well kept – a promise to never stop fighting.