Family Comes First

Editors Note: This article is part four of a series running in October to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Contributing Writer

You’d think it would be difficult to make the choice between going on vacation for a week with your family versus starting treatment for the breast cancer you just found out you had. On the one hand, you have fun with your loved ones and try to forget about the hard times ahead, but you then risk allowing the cancer to progress further. On the other, you begin grueling chemo treatments and countless hospital visits and tests, but your chances of having a vacation with your family in the future increase.

So, which would you choose? How do you balance family and fine fettle?

It was the question Kim Baker, president of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and mother of three, had to consider when she was diagnosed in May 2011. For Baker, the question wasn’t as hard as you might imagine. It wasn’t even a debate: family came first.

“I really remember it clearly because we always take a family vacation around that time of year,” Baker says. “Things went pretty quickly, but when I realized that I had been diagnosed and they wanted me to start treatment, I had to make a decision about whether or not to postpone the vacation. And I just decided that I wanted to take that family vacation, and so I did. I went to the beach.”

Baker speaks so matter-of-factly you’d think she had decided between getting skim or 2% milk at Kroger.

“I talked to people, and they said, ‘You’re going to have a long treatment process ahead of you, so you should take this time and enjoy it with your family,’” Baker further explains. “So that’s what I did. I knew that this time would be precious for me because I was aware of how things could go.”

And things could have gone very differently indeed. Baker had been diagnosed with stage II-B breast cancer and was estrogen progesterone negative. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation website, this means that Baker’s tumor was larger than 2cm and less than 5cm, and had spread to nearby lymph nodes.

“My doctor said, ‘Think of it this way. This is a very aggressive cancer, but the good news is that it’s found and can be easily treated.’”

But still, it was more easily said than done. Chemo was next.

“For me, the hardest part [of the chemo] was towards the end. It was just the feeling that I had very little energy. I’m a mother of three girls, and at the time, Georgia Mae was celebrating her second birthday while I was going through treatment,” Baker says. “I had a lot of friends and family and coworkers who helped out so much, and one of the things they did was take the girls out because I didn’t want them to miss out on anything. And I think that was the hardest part because I was just missing out on spending time with the girls in a really active way.”

It’s clear from Baker’s actions that living actively with her family is the most important thing she can do with her time, and it’s a feeling that she hopes Georgia Mae, along with her elder daughters Samantha and Olivia, also have about the significance of friends and family.

“Before that, I don’t think that they had ever seen so many people show such support and care,” Baker explains. “I don’t know if they recognized it for what it was then, and maybe they still have not, but I know when they get older they will.”

After finishing chemotherapy, Baker had a double mastectomy, and following the testing and complete removal of seven affected lymph nodes, she was declared cancer-free in Nov. 2012.

“Although they say the chances of it coming back are not very big, I know too many people that have gone through it, so I know it does come back and it can come back,” Baker says. But even with this reality, Baker is looking to the future, focusing on her family and her work at The Kentucky Center but also aiming to stay more aware of her own state of health.

“I would say that’s one thing I’d like to say to women. You know, we get really busy. We take care of everyone except ourselves and we don’t always pay attention to how we’re feeling and to our health, and when someone makes a comment about seeing a doctor you might brush it off. That’s sort of what I did because I had a million other things to worry about. But I probably wouldn’t have had such a mess ahead of me had I been more mindful.”

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