“I love you so much. You’ve been through a lot."
That’s what 1 of Kelly Cason’s 3 sons, 6 years old at the time, wrote in a card to her when she was battling breast cancer.
Today, Cason is as full of life as ever, after beating breast cancer – twice – and brain surgery to remove a tumor from the back of her head. And now she’s helping others on their own journeys.
A Winston-Salem native and self-described social butterfly, Cason has always been involved in her local community. Even before she was diagnosed, she was an active member of the Susan G. Komen committee at work.
“I had always been drawn to helping the cause, never knowing that I would be part of it as a patient,” she says.
It was October 2012. She had just celebrated her 31st birthday and was looking to buy a house for herself and her 3 boys, who were 6, 7 and 11 years old at the time. The mayor had just sworn her in on the board of the Housing Authority.
She was focused, ready to take her career and her life to the next level.
And then cancer.
Handling the News
Immediately after noticing a lump in her breast, Cason visited her primary care doctor, Dr. David Shelburne. He referred her to get an ultrasound and mammogram. From there, she had a biopsy.
Cason broke down into tears thinking about her 3 boys. The technician, Sharon Curtis, was quick to help, and she held Cason's hand throughout the biopsy. “She gave me that comfort, and that meant a lot," Cason remembers.
Two weeks later, Cason was at work when she received the call from Shelburne. “I lost it. I was scared. Walking out of that office, I felt like I may never walk back in there. I felt like I was floating," she says.
Fighting for Life
Cason’s team – Dr. Marissa Howard-McNatt, director of the breast care center; Dr. Julia Lawrence, oncologist; and Dr. Doris Brown, radiation oncologist – worked together on a plan for her care, talking her through all the steps and helping her understand what was to come.
Months of chemotherapy drained Cason. “I remember the first day of chemo like it was yesterday," she recalls. Seven weeks of radiation – 5 days a week – followed chemotherapy.
But Cason kept her spirits and sense of humor. “They would crank the music up in the radiation room. I'd ask, ‘Are y'all gonna make me medium or medium rare today?’ And we would laugh. We became family."
In October 2013, about a year after her diagnosis, Cason was cleared.
Ready to Move On
In 2014 Cason was ready to be a homeowner, but right before she enlisted the help of a realtor, routine scans revealed a spot on her breast. It was metastatic cancer. “I called my parents screaming and crying,” she remembers. "And I said, ‘It’s back.’”
Cason had to go through several more months of chemotherapy and radiation. She considered not purchasing a house. Her father convinced her otherwise.
She decided to build a house for her family and closed on the property in September 2014. A few weeks later, she was cleared of her second battle with breast cancer. Things were looking up again.
Not Over Yet
Cason went in for routine scans on March 13, 2015 – it was Friday the 13th – and Dr. Arthur W. Blackstock, Jr. was filling in for the radiation oncologist that day.
“I left work, and I joked that if I didn't come back, it was bad news. I laughed about it. I thought it would be nothing,” she says. “But I didn’t come back.”
Cason was experiencing some minor sinus issues, thinking it was just seasonal. But Blackstock suggested a brain scan to be sure. The scan revealed a brain tumor.
Neurosurgeon, Dr. Adrian W. Laxton, performed surgery that following Monday. The surgery was successful, and Cason was on her way home in a matter of days.
Fighting for Others
Cason knows how lucky she is to have such a strong support system in her large family. But she also knows that not everyone has that luxury.
She’s made it her mission to bring whatever support she can to others going through similar journeys and is currently co-chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council(PFAC) at the Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Kelly is a fighter and a strong, compassionate woman,” says McNatt. "She has given to the community and did so even as she went through her own battle with breast cancer.”
Cason offers words of advice for others struggling through a similar journey. “Look past the cancer. Don't think of yourself as just a cancer patient. You’re more than a cancer patient.”