For Breckenridge’s Kathy Grotemeyer, breast cancer became a family affair
October 29, 2013
It was Dec. 1, 2004 and Kathy Grotemeyer's little sister had just finished her treatment for breast cancer. Her sister, 37, had been diagnosed the year before and had undergone months of chemotherapy.
Less than one month later, Grotemeyer would feel a lump in her own breast. In late December, at age 47, Grotemeyer was also diagnosed with breast cancer.
There was no family history. The BRCA gene test came up negative. But a needle biopsy confirmed Grotemeyer had a small tumor.
"The hardest part of having breast cancer is deciding what to do," she said. "I've heard stories about nearly identical cancers, but everybody's is just a little different."
She decided to have a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and undergo radiation. Unlike her sister, she did not have chemo. Grotemeyer had one of the earliest forms of breast cancer.
It took her the next month to decide what to do, weighing options, deciding if a mastectomy — total removal of the breast — was an option. Finally on February 1, she had the lumpectomy surgery.
"I wasn't ready for a mastectomy," she said. "The biopsy showed my cancer was non-invasive, so I just had the tumor removed."
After healing, Grotemeyer proceeded to complete 32 radiation sessions: five days a week for six weeks, the rays killing the DNA of her cells.
She skied through her entire radiation treatment, determined not to miss the season. At the time, Grotemeyer wasn't working, having just left the Carriage House as the executive director in April 2004. But with a 9-year-old son at home, she was glad for the time to heal.
Because of her sister's illness, Grotemeyer was already performing self-exams and scheduling regular check-ups. She had a physical scheduled for January, before she found her lump in December.
"Because my sister went through it, she made me more aware," she said.
By May 5, 2005, her treatment complete, Grotemeyer would begin a schedule of medication that would last the next seven years — tamoxifen and Arimidex, an estrogen inhibitor. Her cancer was estrogen-driven, one of the reasons more women are diagnosed with breast cancer than men.
Her family history, now, includes two siblings with the cancer, diagnosed less than a year apart.
"The two of us with breast cancer, but there's no gene, it's like, what the heck is going on here," Grotemeyer said.
Now, age 56, Grotemeyer spends her time volunteering in the Breckenridge community with organizations such as the Summit Foundation. After moving to Colorado 32 years ago from Chicago, she's learned to take things one day at a time.
"The biggest thing with cancer is you have to have patience," she said. "It takes a lot of time to make the decisions."
She is quick to credit a strong support group of family and friends, who never let her drive alone to the Shaw Cancer Center for treatment.
Grotemeyer remembers the weeks spent waiting for blood test results, nothing speedy like the crime shows on TV. Her sister was tested for the breast cancer gene, with a negative result. Grotemeyer never got the test.
"Eight or nine years ago, there was an issue with insurance," she said. "If they proved you had the gene, it could impact your insurance, like a pre-existing condition. It's not so much the case today."
Grotemeyer said she knows plenty of people in the community with the same diagnosis who have gone through a gamut of treatment options, because as she likes to emphasis, every cancer is different.
For now, eight years after starting treatment, Grotemeyer is content to add to her travel plans, take care of her mother and move forward.
"I don't think about cancer," she said. "Especially now that I'm off the medicine, I don't have to take a pill every day. It's like, 'Wow, I didn't think about it today.' And that's really nice."