Nichole Kutmas – A Story of Hope
— by ABCD Board Member Gina Rich
January 10, 2018
When Nichole Kutmas found a lump the size of a pencil eraser, breast cancer was the last thing on her mind. It was May 2013, and Nichole had just celebrated her 32nd birthday. She had two young daughters. Could her symptoms be a lingering effect of pregnancy hormones? Nichole wasn’t worried, but she booked an appointment with her doctor just to be safe.
A mammogram and two ultrasounds followed, with unremarkable findings. But an MRI revealed suspicious areas, and Nichole underwent a biopsy. Still, the radiologist expected benign results.
Nichole, who teaches English Language Arts to seventh and eighth graders, got the unexpected call from her doctor’s office the next day, in the middle of reading Of Mice and Men to her class. “I dismissed my students to lunch and called my doctor back right away. Now I was really scared,” she recalls. Nichole was shocked to learn the lump was malignant; she had breast cancer.
The next few weeks were a blur. Nichole and her husband researched breast cancer online, but the information was overwhelming and often increased their anxiety. With guidance from her doctors, Nichole decided to undergo a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Because of her young age and the characteristics of her cancer, Nichole’s follow-up treatment was aggressive. She underwent six months of intense chemotherapy, then nine months of a targeted treatment called Herceptin. “My doctor told me, ‘We’re basically throwing the kitchen sink at you,’” Nichole explains with a wry smile.
While going through chemo, Nichole battled a mix of negative emotions. She felt shame and anger, wondering if she had done something to cause her illness. She worried about leaving her children and prayed that she would live long enough to raise them through high school. Most of all, she longed to return to her normal routine, but the hard-hitting medicines suppressed her immune system and necessitated a hiatus from her job.
As Nichole progressed through her treatments, a cancer counselor referred her to ABCD. When Nichole called, ABCD immediately matched her with Vicki, who had been diagnosed with a similar type of breast cancer and also had young children. For Nichole, it was incredibly reassuring to speak with someone whose experience was so similar to her own, and who had made it through treatment successfully. “Everything I’d read online made my diagnosis sound like a death sentence,” Nichole explains. “But when I met Vicki and saw how well she was doing, I thought to myself – I can be like her.”
With Vicki’s encouragement, Nichole joined a local breast cancer support group at Froedtert Hospital, where she connected with other women who were diagnosed at a young age.
Nichole’s experience with ABCD’s mentoring services was so positive that she wanted to do the same for other patients. New mentors must be at least one year out from diagnosis, and Nichole got started as soon as possible with her training. To date, she’s mentored 15 women following their diagnosis.
Today, after successful treatment, Nichole is back at work and doing well, and her daughters are thriving in elementary school. In the months ahead, Nichole plans to celebrate her renewed health with a “cancerversary” party.
“I want people to know that cancer cannot cripple love, it cannot shatter hope, it cannot conquer the spirit,” Nichole says. “If there is a reason that I was diagnosed, it must be this: so I could help others who are going through the same thing.”
Update: “God moves in mysterious ways, and sometimes things happen for a reason. After being diagnosed with breast cancer and 2013, my oncologist asked my husband and me if we were done having children. We had two daughters who were the ages six and four, and our plan had always been to have been to have a third child. My oncologist nodded his head on that first consultation with him and sensitivity said, “Well, that can absolutely still happen, but you would have to wait 5 to 10 years because of the cancer preventative medication that you will need to be on.
After spending a lot of time praying and soul searching, my husband and I decided that our hearts were drawn to adoption, and we stared the long process of taking classes, meeting with social workers, and completing a home study. This was also during that difficult time of survivorship after treatment was completed that all cancer survivors know about; I had a fear and worry of recurrence. But in the most graceful way, the journey to adoption gave me a new purpose. And here we are five years later, with this gift from God, our seven week old bundle of joy, Matthew Luke. Without cancer, we would not have him. If I could go back to that 5 year diagnosis date, I would do it all over again. I am stronger for it, have learned so much about myself, and our family of 5 is now complete.”