An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Zen Vuong | December 4, 2019
Pasadena, California, resident Stacy Kimmel was 38 years old when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. The tumor was 3 millimeters wide, but as a mother of a 3-year-old, Kimmel decided to get aggressive treatment. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy to reduce the risk of recurrence. The estrogen-positive cancer proved stubborn and returned five other times, eventually becoming HER-2 positive, a hard-to-beat cancer mutation that could spread quickly. In total, Kimmel has been diagnosed with breast cancer six times, and she’s beaten it every time.
Despite cancer, her singular focus is living a life filled with memorable moments. Kimmel is unwilling to give up hope that she will survive, thrive and continue making memories with family and friends. (Read more about her cancer journey here.)
Kimmel, now 51, reflects on her cancer journey as she mentally prepares to start the new year.
After your diagnosis, what were your main worries and challenges?
After every single diagnosis, my main worry was always my daughter. She was only 3 years old when I was first diagnosed. How could I explain to a toddler that my aggressive approach – bilateral mastectomy – was preventing me from picking her up when she wanted to be held?
So many questions ran through my mind. How would the cancer affect my daily work schedule – would I even be able to work? Is the cancer worse this time? How has my prognosis changed? Should I tell family and friends this time around?
Sometimes I chose not to tell them. My breast cancer and its different manifestations were sometimes overwhelming for me. I couldn’t run away from the issue, but sometimes I wanted to protect my family and friends who live far away from having to be concerned all over again. It’s hard on them.
Why did you decide to come to City of Hope?
I was initially treated in Nashville but relocated to Los Angeles County for work when I became the creative director at City of Hope. I actually started my treatment in Los Angeles with a different hospital but had a bad experience and decided to move my cancer care to City of Hope.
It made sense. In my role, I saw firsthand that the doctors and researchers actually drink the punch. They sincerely want to cure cancer and end this horrible disease, not just give someone a Band-Aid. I saw them working on clinical trials, manufacturing chemical and cellular therapeutics, and inventing drugs that eventually could lead to a cure or at least help people better manage their symptoms.
What would you like to share about the specialized treatment you received at City of Hope?
I can’t stress enough how important the open, honest dialogue I had with my doctors, nurses and care team helped me. In addition to asking about my symptoms, they showed that they cared about me. Almost all my doctors, nurses and care team always asked about my family and wanted to see new pictures of my daughter. That little extra compassion meant a lot when I was having a bad day or when my symptoms became overwhelming.
The first time City of Hope told me I had metastatic breast cancer was five years ago on Christmas Eve. Even though it was the day before a holiday, they found time for me to go in for an MRI. By the time I was dressed and had walked into the hallway, Dr. Mike Chen, a neurosurgeon, was standing in the hallway ready to explain what was happening. That was the first time I was told that my breast cancer tumors had spread to my brain. They could’ve waited until after the new year. Most people would be running out of the door on Christmas Eve. But my City of Hope care team were there and wanted to address the problem immediately.
You have Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and have active tumors all the time. How has your perspective on life changed?
I was always athletic and outgoing and liked to go out and do things but sometimes life got in the way. Now, I make it a point to do something for myself every day. Sometimes it’s as simple as going for a walk, drinking a healthy smoothie or having a cup of tea with a friend.
I’ve learned to be more mindful and see that every day is a gift and blessing. You never know what the day is going to bring, and not every day has to be a huge celebration. But I’ve found a way to find gratitude in small things like preparing meal with a boyfriend or going clothing shopping with my daughter and helping her find a Halloween costume.
Why would you recommend City of Hope to other people seeking treatment for cancer, diabetes or life-threatening diseases?
I’ve recommended City of Hope to two friends who are now patients there, are doing well and are really happy about their decision. I tell people City of Hope is a comprehensive cancer center, meaning they could get almost every treatment they need in one facility.
If I have cancer, HIV or diabetes, I know I’d be overwhelmed, especially in the beginning. I wouldn’t know who I should talk to or where I should go. City of Hope helps simplify all of that and offers many different perspectives from doctors who specialize on specific disease types. I feel more certain about my choice when I know my doctor is working with a big pool of specialized doctors and supportive care specialists who can help me even when my disease spirals into different iterations that require different treatments.
How has your outlook changed?
You have to have faith. There’s always hope. If I had what I have now 13 years ago when I was originally diagnosed, I don’t think I would have had as long a life. During those 13 years, research and medical advances created different treatment plans that have afforded me this longer life. The perks of going to City of Hope is that they perform research, manufacture therapies, treat patients and offer clinical trials all on site.

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