Local citizen, Kristi Hyer, is a survivor of breast cancer who was diagnosed in 2017 with Stage 2, Grade 2 invasive lobular Carcinoma.
Kristi identifies herself as a young survivor and explained she has become very open speaking about her cancer journey with others, especially when providing support to those who are being tested or have been diagnosed. She explained that everyone’s cancer journey is different and unique in some way, and she has not heard a story similar to her own.
Cancer was a low point in Kristi’s life which, as she explained, says a lot when considering what she had recently gone through prior to being diagnosed.
In April of 2015 her nephew, also a local Fayette County citizen, died of a heroin overdose. A few months later in November of that same year, that nephew’s brother also died from a heroin overdose.
Kristi said, “I come from a white, middle-class background. The drug overdoses are not something you’d expect.”
She further explained, “I got to see first-hand what it’s like to go down that track when you’re not thinking it’s a track you’re ever going to go down.”
Not only had her nephews died, but on the same day of that second death, her brother-in-law died from cardiac arrest.
“It was death on top of death,” she said.
Kristi currently works as a teacher at Washington Middle School although a large portion of her career was spent teaching for Miami Trace. Kristi explained she made the switch in order to be with her family approximately a year and a half before her then-husband asked for a divorce in February of 2016.
According to Becky, they had been high school sweethearts and had a son together named Wesley who was born in November of 2010.
“So, I had been through what I thought had been a wringer,” she said. “I still had my career and I still had my health. I had thought, ‘Okay, this must be it for me.’”
Then in April of 2017 Kristi went into the Fayette County Memorial Hospital Women’s Wellness Center for a routine pap smear with Dr. Cynthia Morris. After the clinical breast exam, Morris began to question Kristi’s habits of self-examination for breast cancer.
At that time, Kristi had not been very concerned about the self-exams.
She explained, “I was a size A, I was small, I was athletic and I ran all the time. I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer.”
Morris decided to set her up for a mammogram, however, as something had been felt in Kristi’s left side during the clinical exam.
Even then Kristi was not concerned.
“I was 37 at the time. I was not stressed out at all,” she said. “I went in for my mammogram here in Fayette County.”
According to Kristi, at this point she was informed her breast tissue was too dense for the mammogram and she would need to have a breast biopsy done. She still was not freaking out at this point as she explained her reasoning at the time involved the possible causes of the dense tissue—including the fact that she had breastfed her son.
The only people she confided in throughout the process were her mother and sisters until the day of her scheduled biopsy. On that day she said she got into an argument with Patrick Hyer, the man she had been casually dating for approximately six months.
During this argument she informed him of the biopsy.
“I told him if you’re out, I get it,” she explained. “Lately I’ve had horrible problems with men, and I don’t expect you to stick around.”
Not only did he stick around, but after results came back telling Kristi she did have cancer, Patrick was basically living with her.
“It went from casually dating to like we were married even though we weren’t,” she said.
The day she got the diagnosis was “the worst day” of her life. Morris and a staff member talked to her about her concerns and got her scheduled with The James, a Comprehensive Cancer Center at The Ohio State University.
Within a week of being diagnosed, Kristi saw a medical oncologist, a surgical oncologist and a plastic surgeon at The James. She was scheduled for her first surgery.
That surgery, according to Kristi, was approximately six hours long. Afterwards she had two drainage tubes and dressings that needed to be changed regularly. She went home and if it wasn’t for Patrick, she would have needed a social worker or home health nurse to come in and assist her.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” she explained. “I didn’t have to do chemotherapy or radiation.”
Kristi said that if she had been diagnosed in the 1990s she would have gone through chemotherapy as that was routine treatment back then, but with gene therapy and gene testing they know the chemotherapy would not have made much of a difference for her.
Kristi had also struggled with the idea of losing her breasts as, to her, that identifies her as a female. She had considered a lumpectomy but her surgeon talked her into a mastectomy.
Essentially, her surgeon explained that if she were to get a lumpectomy, her right breast would still be at stage zero—it would be pre-cancerous and could turn at any time.
“He told me what I needed to hear when I didn’t want to hear it,” she said. “Had I not listened to him, I would have had a lumpectomy because I wanted to keep my breasts.”
At this point her chest was flat and she had a scar going from arm-pit to arm-pit.
The second surgery, which was the final reconstruction surgery, was scheduled for November of 2017.
“So, I go into The James and I was sitting in pre-op for about 45 minutes when they came out and told me ‘you’re pregnant so we’re not doing surgery today,’” she explained. “So I got told by my plastic surgeon while I was getting ready to have a boob job that I’m pregnant!”
Kristi had been taking a medication called Tamoxifen which she explained inhibits estrogen and progesterone from attaching to the cancer cells. She stopped taking it about four months prior to that second surgery because of the side effects that made her feel like she was going through menopause.
“I wasn’t planning on getting pregnant, but by being off the medicine I was safely able to get pregnant,” she explained. “It was like the stars all aligned.”
However, going through with the pregnancy was considered risky. They couldn’t share the pregnancy news with others for at least eight weeks after finding out as they didn’t know what would happen. According to Kristi, she had to tell people the surgery date had been mixed up even though she hated to lie about it.
When she was eight months pregnant, she and Patrick got married. At that point they had three houses: her home, Patrick’s and their new home. They were trying to sell their old houses but it took longer than hoped.
Their son, James, was born in July of 2018.
“Both of my children are miracle children in the long run,” she said.
Kristi eventually did have her final reconstruction surgery. During that surgery she chose not to have nipples.
“I’m totally okay with not having nipples,” she laughed. “If I don’t have nipples I don’t have to wear a bra.”
After waiting the suggested time period following her reconstruction, she chose to search for a tattoo artist that does mastectomy tattoos. She explained that reputable tattoo artists who will do those tattoos are difficult to find and she had to leave the county for an artist. Eventually she did find one and had two Hibiscus tattooed on.
Kristi explained the tattooing did not hurt as she never got feeling back in her breasts, although some women do get feeling back.
“One of the things cancer has taught me is I don’t sweat the small things,” she explained. “I’ve learned through my cancer journey, especially as a single woman getting diagnosed, that you don’t want a man to know you have cancer. You don’t want a man to see you as weak. You don’t want a man to see you without breasts.”
“So, I was very private. I wasn’t wearing the pink bracelets, I wasn’t wearing the pink gear,” she said. “Everyone’s journey is different—I have never met a single cancer survivor that has my exact grade, stage, form of treatment.”
Kristi explained that through the journey, people learn who their real friends and real family are. Today, Kristi attempts to speak with those who are diagnosed and need support, especially those who are young survivors as “there aren’t many of us.”
According to Kristi, she is now very open when people ask her questions about her journey, and Wesley is told the “8-year-old” version.
“Our community is just amazing. I felt so loved during that time,” she said. “I had my family, I had my Washington Court House family, I had my Miami Trace family behind me, I had my Crossroads church family behind me. I just felt so taken care of.”
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.