An Incredible Journey – From Beating Breast Cancer to Climbing Mount Everest

(Pictured Above) Kelly Long, breast cancer survivor, and her team of doctors at Olathe Medical Center. The doctors are (from left) Dr. Bradley Storm, plastic surgeon; Dr. Kelly Rhodes-Stark, radiation oncologist; Dr. Larry Corum, medical oncologist; Dr. Gina Petelin, OBGYN; Dr. Dan Gehlbach, reproductive specialist; and Dr. Craig Anderson, general surgeon. 

Three weeks before getting married, most brides are stressing over final dress fittings, making final arrangements with the caterer and excitedly counting down the days before they say ‘I do.’ For Olathe resident Kelly Long, the weeks before her wedding were spent in doctors’ offices and the hospital, dealing with the news of a breast cancer diagnosis at age 31.

Kelly’s gynecologist, Gina Petelin, MD, with Olathe Women’s Center, first noticed the lump in one of her breasts during a routine well-woman exam in April 2014. Dr. Petelin ordered a mammogram, ultrasound and needle biopsy.

Kelly was out of town, traveling for her job when surgeon Craig Anderson, MD, FACS, with Olathe Health Midwest Surgical Associates called to deliver the news – the biopsy confirmed the lump in her breast was cancerous.

“My first thought was, ‘I don’t have time for this – I’m getting married in three weeks!'” laughed Kelly. “In fact, I went back to work after the call. It took a little while for the news to sink in.”

Kelly returned to Olathe Medical Center (OMC) the next day and was tested for mutations to the cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Mutations to either breast cancer gene significantly increase a person’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Kelly’s results came back positive for the BRCA2 mutation. That result combined with a family history of breast cancer led Kelly and her medical team to choose to fight the disease with a bilateral mastectomy (removal of both breasts), followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

But first, Kelly married her husband Jesse in a special destination wedding at the Grand Canyon, followed by a honeymoon in the Southwest.

Eight days later, Dr. Anderson performed Kelly’s bilateral mastectomy at OMC. Immediately following, Kelly had breast reconstruction surgery by Bradley Storm, MD, with Premier Plastic Surgery.

Kelly did well through surgery, and headed home to recover the next day. Because chemotherapy can cause infertility, her doctors suggested In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) as an option to fertilize some of Kelly’s eggs and freeze them for a time when she and her husband may want to start a family. Dan Gehlbach, MD, from Midwest Reproductive Center performed IVF for the young couple at OMC.

“Since first getting my diagnosis, the possibility of infertility was something I thought about every day,” Kelly said. “I’m glad my doctors were thinking about it too, and made sure that having a family is still an option for us someday.”

Kelly began six rounds of chemotherapy in August 2014, followed by radiation later that year. Larry R. Corum, MD, and Kelly L. Rhodes-Stark, MD, with the Olathe Health Cancer Center joined Kelly’s growing team of doctors coordinating her care at OMC.

Throughout her treatment, Kelly came to depend on the friendships she formed with her care team.

In January 2015, Kelly heard the words she was waiting for: no more evidence of cancer. Though she officially graduated from her cancer treatment at that time, her doctors are still following her closely. Because she carries the BRCA gene mutation, she is still at a high risk for developing ovarian cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. Approximately seven percent of women with breast cancer are diagnosed before the age of 40 years, and the disease accounts for more than 40 percent of all cancer in women in this age group.

“Being young doesn’t mean you’re not at risk,” Kelly said. “All women need to realize this disease can happen to them, and they need to know their bodies and get regular well woman and clinical breast exams.”

In April of this year, Kelly marked her second anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis by climbing to the base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal with five other young breast cancer survivors. Kelly has also become an education ambassador for the organization Bright Pink, an organization focused on prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women.