Breast cancer survivor is a fighter
Lisa Kelley-Garsee is a fighter. She beat breast cancer not once but twice, but the Brantley native is humble about her experience and she gives a lot of credit to the strong support system she found among her family, friends, co-workers and community.
In 2016, the then-36-year-old received the devastating news after the place she had worked for nine years closed its doors.
“I decided to use my severance check to buy a pool and just relax for a couple of weeks before I started the job hunt,” she said.
It was during that time, she found a lump in her right breast.
“Little did I know that wasn’t what was in the cards for me that summer,” she said. “One week after I lost my job, I felt a lump on my right breast. I really didn’t know what to think at the time because this was just the month of June and I had had my yearly physical in November so surely nothing was wrong.”
To be on the safe side, she did another self-check and made an appointment for June 10, which became a day she will never forget.
“I had a mammogram immediately followed by an ultrasound and then was immediately walked to a surgeon’s office to have a biopsy,” Kelley-Garsee said. “I went alone to this appointment. I never thought this would be the outcome. So, to say I was upset would be an understatement.”
Kelley-Garsee said the surgeon told her he was certain the lump was cancer.
“He was right,” she said.
The cancer was confirmed June 14.
“The stage and details came a few days later, but they were IDC invasive ductal carcinoma, a 3.8 centimeter tumor, both PR and ER positive, and she was BRCA 1 positive.
Kelley-Garsee said she did have some family history of cancer on both sides of her family.
“But I never thought anything of it as most of us don’t,” she said.
Things happened fast, she said.
“My cancer was aggressive,” she said “So, it was treated aggressively.”
On June 27, a chemo port was placed and on June 30, Kelley-Garsee had her first treatments.
She underwent four rounds of Adriamycin and cytoxan every other week for eight weeks.
Kelley-Garsee described it was the worst feeling ever.
She said she would be sick for a couple of days after treatment and then she would feel better.
Being the warrior she is, she carried on with her life.
“I was very fortunate to have had health insurance at this time and I had my family and my community for support,” she said. “I will forever be grateful to my community for the support and prayers. After the red devil treatments, I was supposed to have 12 rounds of another chemo called paclitaxel but immediately after the first treatment, I started having tingling in my hands and feet so that treatment was stopped.”
Doctors gave her two weeks to rest and then on Sept. 8, she began another type of chemo called taxotere.
“This one caused major bone and joint pain and eventually loss of taste,” she said.
Her last chemo treatment was on Nov. 10.
“I actually got to enjoy the holidays, and my hair was growing back,” she said.
Kelley-Garsee said she did get down and out during her treatments but she wouldn’t let herself get down for long.
“Every time I went to do chemo, I would see other patients that were so much worse off than me,” she said. “How could I feel sorry for myself, you know?”
Kelley-Garsee’s cancer was hormonal, and doctors advised her to have her ovaries removed to help decrease her chances of getting ovarian cancer or a reoccurrence of breast cancer.
The decision was difficult, she said.
“Me and my fiancé had thought we had a little more time,” she said. “He didn’t have any kids. So, that was hard to deal with. I have a son. He was 14 through all of this and him watching me go through it all was probably the hardest thing of all for me. I stayed strong for him.”
On Dec. 27, she had her ovaries removed, a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy.
On Dec. 30, just before the new year, Kelley-Garsee’s surgeon called with good news – she was cancer free.
“They couldn’t find a cancer cell anywhere, so the chemo worked,” she said.
Radiation treatments started on Jan. 27.
She had to have 33 treatments.
While taking her treatments, she was able to go back to work at the local hospital, something she said she is forever grateful for.
“I will forever be grateful for Jeannie Colquett giving me the opportunity while I was still going through treatments,” she said. “I worked there for about six months part-time and then my sister-in-law told me that the commission office was hiring for a custodial position.”
With the new job, she was able to back to work full-time, where she’s worked for more than three years.
Last June, Kelley-Garsee was diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast, but this time, it was caught early – so early, in fact, it wasn’t event stage one, yet.
“I had another surgery and then 33 more rounds of radiation and this time radiation was horrible because it was in the summer months,” she said. “I burned horribly. I even missed some work days because it was so bad, but again I had support from my work family and my family at home and I made it through to today.”
Kelley-Garsee said she never let her cancer get her down for long.
“I will say this. I made choices that someone else may not have made on my journey but they were my choices,” she said. “I believe a woman should use her voice and decided what’s fright for her, and trust your instincts. Get checked when something isn’t quite right. Do not wait, and if you have a family history don’t ignore it and advocate for earlier preventative testing.”
Kelley-Garsee said her experiences have humbled her.
“I was never the type to ask for help of any kind,” she said. “So, to have your community support you through something like this is an experience like no other. I will forever be grateful for all the prayers and words of kindness and support.”