It’s a joy to continue our Sisterhood of Significance series with Kristine’s nominee, Chris. Kristine nominated Chris for the Sisterhood because “She is a friend and realtor. She has helped me find “home” twice and has also endured breast cancer, and never ever lost her spunk or positive attitude.” It’s clear that Chris is living a life of significance, whether she knows it or not, whether she believes it or not. With that, it’s my sincerest pleasure to introduce you to our next member of the Sisterhood of Significance. Welcome, Chris! It’s an honor to call you sister.
For 20 years, Chris worked faithfully as an administrative assistant for one company. She started working there when she was 18 years old and loved it. On the 20th anniversary of her employment, the company informed her that they were going to be eliminating her job and would need to send her back to the switch board.
Given the news, Chris contacted her friend who’s a real estate agent; she’d heard they were hiring. Chris kept her full-time day job while training and beginning work as a real estate agent at Edina Realty. For 2 1/2 years, she did real estate work during breaks, lunch hours, nights and on weekends. I asked Chris if she recalls this being a stressful time of life. “No,” she responded without a second thought. “It was something that I needed. It was a high.”
Over the course of a relatively short period of time, Chris experienced significant changes to both her work life and her personal life. Chris’ mother had a history of breast cancer. In 2002, the breast cancer returned, and in 2004, it metastasized. When the breast cancer metastasized, Chris went part-time at work so she could spend more time with her mom. Chris’ mother passed away in 2005. Since Chris was her mother’s primary caregiver during the journey through breast cancer, it was, indeed, a stressful time. In 2006, Chris and her husband divorced.
Chris hung onto her part-time job, but in 2008, the company reorganized and Chris was let go. Chris was left with no job and no health insurance. This forced her to “sink or swim” in the real estate business. Unfortunately, the layoff happened at the same time as the real estate market crash. Fortunately, Chris survived. Not only did she make it through the layoff and real estate crash, but business went up!
In 2014, Chris went in for her annual mammogram. On her way to vacation in Colorado, she got a call letting her know they had detected breast cancer. Since her mother passed away from breast cancer, her grandmother passed away from breast cancer, and her great aunts, her mom’s sister, and her sister have all had breast cancer as well, they did some extra testing and found out that Chris had Triple Negative Ductal Carcinoma and a rare breast cancer gene, PALB2, which affects not only the breasts, but the ovaries and pancreas. Needless to say, Chris flew home early from her vacation in Colorado and quickly became a “guinea pig for doctors in the area.”
One day after returning early from her Colorado vacation, Chris met with a surgeon. She brought two of her sisters with her for support and “to help make the right decision for [her]” because “it is always better to have someone with you during a time like this, as you don’t always hear everything correctly.” Because of the Triple Negative diagnosis, the Oncologist planned a lumpectomy.
Originally, Chris and her broker had made a decision to keep Chris’ diagnosis private “due to people not thinking I would be available to help them with their real estate transactions.” But once the reports were in and the decision was made to do 16 rounds of chemotherapy in 20 weeks, she knew she needed to tell her colleagues at Edina Realty; she would be losing her hair and didn’t know how she’d be feeling. So the day after her meeting with the surgeon, Chris shared the cancer diagnosis with her colleagues during their weekly meeting, and let them know she would be needing chemo. She asked her colleagues to pray for her, and asked them to not come into work if they were sick. Chris needed her colleagues, she needed to be around them, and she needed work to keep going, especially as she journeyed through cancer. When Chris made the announcement, one of her coworkers got up and prayed for her. All of her colleagues rallied around her. Just 20 minutes later, Chris went in to get her port placed.
On September 24, 2014, just 22 days after her lumpectomy, Chris began her first round of chemotherapy with an incredible end goal in mind. Chris and her family had brought her mom home to hospice on February 4, 2005, so she marked that date with the significance it deserved. She recalls with determination, “I had to do whatever possible to make it work.” Yes, Chris wanted to COMPLETE all 16 rounds of chemotherapy by February 4, 2015, the 10-year anniversary of the date they brought her mom home to hospice to pass away.
Chris no longer had her mother and was now divorced, but she had no shortage of support from family and friends during her breast cancer journey. Chris’ older sister (who had been through breast cancer herself) became the mother figure Chris needed. She made sure Chris ate properly and had everything she needed to feel good. She also made daily calls to check in.
When Chris found out she had breast cancer, 10 people showed up at her house, 8 of those had personally journeyed through cancer. And the night she shaved her head, 17 people showed up to support her, cry with her and care for her. Chris’ friend, Brigette, came to every chemo appointment. And one of Chris’ friends sent flowers every day of chemotherapy. All of Chris’ friends are “very close.” Chris is the common denominator of them all. They showed up and were incredibly supportive during this difficult time.
Chris tried to keep a positive attitude all the way through her breast cancer journey. The day of the lumpectomy, the doctors determined she needed another mammogram. She got into position for the mammogram, but the technician couldn’t find the lump, so the technician left her in position while she left the room. Needless to say, this was incredibly painful, but Chris made the best of the situation! When she was done with the mammogram that day, her gown got caught in the chair when she tried to get up. She recalls laughing “so hard” with the technician. “Everyone’s sad for you,” Chris said. “I needed to diffuse it.”
The first four rounds of chemotherapy (also known as “Red Devil”) were administered every two weeks because they were so strong. Everything was going “really good” until round three. Chris was up late after that round of chemo, and took five hours to get ready the next day. Ultimately, her white count went so low, she had to go in for a blood transfusion. Knowing how important that transfusion was on her journey to health, Chris has participated in blood drives ever since, and encourages “everyone that is physically able to please donate whenever they can.”
Chris says she “became very selfish” during chemotherapy. She didn’t go out and refrained from shaking hands. She ate protein before every round of chemo, which helped her experience less sickness. And she didn’t tell her clients she had breast cancer, but it was tough some days. Chris continued to have open houses and worked every day EXCEPT the days she had chemo. In fact, she actually increased business that year.
On February 4, 2015, Chris finished her last round of chemotherapy. Just in time to mark the day they brought her mom home to hospice 10 years prior. It took Chris a total of 20 weeks to complete 16 rounds of chemotherapy.
Based on statistics and the rare breast cancer gene, Chris had an 85% chance of breast cancer coming back within 2-3 years, even AFTER she’d completed chemotherapy. So Chris had two options, proceed with radiation or have a mastectomy.
She went on vacation with her friends and cried the whole time. Ultimately, Chris chose a mastectomy. The procedure was completed on March 17, 2015. Chris said it “was a breeze.”
After her mastectomy, Chris drank a ton of water and walked the halls frequently. Because of Chris’ positive attitude and rare cancer gene, all the nurses loved her and everyone wanted success for her. Fortunately, Chris recovered well. Less than 16 hours after the surgery, the doctor came in to find Chris cleaned up, wearing makeup and ready to be released. The doctor released her home with drains on. Just six days after her mastectomy, she returned to work!
Chris opted for reconstructive surgery. She asked the plastic surgeon how long the process would take, and how many ccs of saline are typically added every week. No surprise given Chris’ positive attitude and determination to press through breast cancer, she requested that 50 ccs of saline be added on a weekly basis. Chris said the doctor looked at her like “nobody does that!” Yet again, Chris proved the doctors wrong. The weekly 50 cc injections were no issue for Chris! In fact, some weeks, they filled her with 75-100 ccs of saline.
Chris had reconstructive surgery on June 30, 2015. She used a lot of coconut oil so she has very few scars. In August 2015, Chris’ left implant started leaking so she had to go in to get a replacement. They ended up replacing both implants so they matched, as they had changed since she first had reconstructive surgery in June. After the second reconstruction and when her nipples were made, Chris had to heal for two months before she could get her areolas which were made by tattoo and took only one hour. Everything was complete by November 2015.
Because of the rare PALB2 gene that affects not only the breasts, but the ovaries and pancreas, Chris had a partial hysterectomy in October 2015. She returned to work the following day.
Chris says she “worked through everything because she had to.” In fact, her business increased 2015 over 2014. “Business is strong,” and she is out “living life” again.
Now Chris “helps people try to get through” breast cancer. She participated in the Susan G. Komen 3-day walk three years in a row. She also volunteers as part of The Firefly Sisterhood, an organization that “connects women diagnosed with breast cancer and trained breast cancer survivors to offer support, guidance and hope.” Through the program, Chris mentors women and helps them “make choices for what’s right for them” as they journey through breast cancer.
Chris goes to follow-up appointments every six months. “I did everything my mom didn’t do,” she states with a certain peace and confidence. “Everything I was afraid of never came true. I never had a poor me attitude. I live life and help the ones I can. It’s not the end of the world.”
On January 6, 2017, I woke with a crystal clear vision for the Sisterhood of Significance. I shared my story of significance on March 8, 2017, then passed the torch and nominated Amy as the next member of the Sisterhood of Significance. Amy nominated Kristine, and Kristine nominated Chris. Soon, I’ll be meeting with Chris’ nominee. She’ll share her story of significance, I’ll take notes and photographs, and will feature her story on the site. Chris’ nominee will pass the torch by nominating someone who’s living a life of significance, whether they know it or not, whether they believe it or not. And that woman will join the Sisterhood! So goes the chain, on and on, until we have hundreds of women in the Sisterhood of Significance. Follow the hashtag #theSOS and CLICK HERE to learn more about the Sisterhood of Significance!